On January 5, Governor Phil Scott stood at a wooden lectern in front of the Vermont state flag and issued his annual State of the State address. As threatened, this year the governor spent much of this speech fixating on how he would add to the state’s labor pool, specifically its healthcare workers, specifically young workers, specifically workers with “middle-income families.”
The tone of the address was optimistic, despite the ongoing pandemic and its attendant economic devastation, decades of burgeoning economic inequality, stagnant wages, a malnourished job market, and the ballooning cost of living. Scott acknowledged these as well as several other hardships, and accounted for the fact that most social issues feed into each other. The governor invoked “silver linings,” including the vast amount of federal aid the state has already received and earmarked, or is yet to receive.
Before he directed remarks towards negatives, Scott first touched upon successes: his administration’s ability to petition for and receive aforementioned federal aid, the high vaccination rate the state has achieved over the most recent year of the pandemic, and the strides his administration has made in infrastructure projects (foremost of which were broadband implementation and sewage infrastructural improvements). Scott claimed that these efforts led the state to be “more secure and prosperous than ever before” and that through the proper use of federal aid (i.e., his proposed budget), all inequity in Vermont could be erased in a matter of years.
Scott then turned to his key issue: workforce recruitment and retention. According to the governor, each of Vermont’s fourteen counties lost workers in 2021; according to the governor, Vermont’s most dire need going forward is more people to fill its communities and the “thousands of available jobs” therein.
Scott explicitly acknowledged Vermont’s high cost of living as a crucial factor in this crisis, decrying Vermont’s disproportionate tax burdens as a catalyst. Renters, rent abatement, landlords, Airbnbs or other short-term rental companies, rental regulations, or anything of the sort were not, and would not be, mentioned for the duration of the address. Inefficiencies in Vermont’s education budgets were mentioned, presumably as a stalking-horse for the many budgetary wrongs his administration might right via cuts. Many solutions, he added, would have to be provided by local committees and legislative bodies (read: not by executive fiat).
As potential positive redress to workforce depletion, Scott proposed strengthening state internship programs to retain young workers and encourage retired seniors to rejoin the workforce. The governor made no appeal to seniors who may have resigned their positions due to skyrocketing COVID-19 risks.
Scott then began a lengthy exaltation of trade schools, promising to lavish funding upon them, at times verging on implying that his administration’s greatest undertaking would be restoring tradespeople to glory and erasing the stigma around “CTE” careers (a different acronym may have had better connotations).
Later in his speech, Scott discussed the possibility of diverting federal recovery funds toward national marketing campaigns in the hopes of attracting young workers and “middle-income families” to the state.
As for Scott’s other strategies to lure “middle-income families” (an oft-repeated phrase throughout his address) to Vermont, he flaunted 800 new affordable units of housing his administration had midwifed over the last year, and a matching 800 in the works. He explained how this had helped, and would help, to stabilize families in housing-insecure situations, and touted the need for increased access to affordable housing. He shot off the phrase “housing policy is workforce policy” with the power of a thousand developers’ hands slapping their own backs.
Scott did not mention any attempts to reform Vermont’s abysmal labor protections as part of his program for workforce expansion. He did not mention his veto of minimum wage increases when he broached how he might use his office to increase Vermonters’ take-home pay, instead opting to shill tax cuts for young workers, “middle-income families,” and retirees. Likewise, he did not seem to reconsider his recent veto of a statewide paid family leave program as a policy decision injurious to attracting “middle-income families” to Vermont.
After shouting-out vital business partners and asking – rhetorically, one presumes – to imagine if Vermont built the strongest education and careers programs in the country, thus increasing access to quality childcare and learning, Scott briefly touched upon how wonderful his administrations’ summer camps had been last year. Kids – the writer is not sure if anybody knows this – need to have fun. The rest of us need to get back to work.
The governor then turned to a slightly less Rockwell-esque subject matter: child mental health. Children not going to school, he warned, had created an untenable demand for mental health resources (the governor chose not to directly mention the state’s current mental health worker exodus). This, in combination with a sharp spike in adult mental health and substance abuse emergencies, threatened to completely overwhelm hospital emergency departments (the governor chose not to mention high amounts of COVID-positive Vermonters swarming EDs). The tacit assertion: these issues, too, were hindrances to adding to the workforce. The solution: doubling down on in-person schooling and an as-of-yet unannounced expansion in the budget to address addiction issues in some unspecified way.
Segueing, Scott stated the importance of police and first responders, maintaining they are currently underlooked in their role addressing said mental health and substance abuse emergencies. As these departments have also been experiencing significant labor shortages, Scott exhorted his audience to give law enforcement their due. The governor was quick to mention this alongside the implementation of such statewide reforms as universal body cameras, numerous unspecified trainings, and the state’s updated use-of-force policy. He cited that there is “always more work” to be done, without explicating what work that might be.
Returning to infrastructure, the governor mentioned a triumph updating the wastewater management in Westford and pointed towards similar potential investments in Montgomery, as well as his administration’s statewide broadband initiative. Although he made sure to mention that his administration could have achieved more had the legislature fully approved last year’s budget, the governor did not mention specifically what would or could have been achieved.
Scott ensured that part of his plans for 2022 included extending tax credits for the development of downtown areas; Scott did not mention any recent examples of how, in Vermont’s last decade, extending tax credits towards developing downtown areas has affected them.
Some amount of Scott’s address was devoted to regulatory and legislative issues, the Republican governor’s primary concern, perhaps unsurprisingly, being deregulation. Scott wished to repeal military pension taxes, linking it to his main theme of attracting potential members of the workforce. Another stated goal towards this cause was “modernizing” (in other words, deregulating) professional licensure requirements for incoming transplants. Scott also made it clear he would encourage the legislature to renew and expand relocation compensation packages for prospective Vermonters. As has been the case his entire career, Scott singled out Act 250, referring to it as a “fifty-one-year-old land use law” and pledging to “modernize” it.
Notably, early in Scott’s speech, he threatened that any legislation not working towards his goals would not “have [his] support,” which – given his history of governance – read as a promise of future vetoes.
Late in his address Scott turned briefly towards foreign matters, expressing his sincere desire to welcome former Afghan allies in U.S. war efforts as refugees in Vermont. Immediately after, he chose to spare words honoring the late General Colin Powell, mainly for Powell’s commitment to Centrism; the governor cited his disinclination towards “election year politics” as inspiration for his tribute. Scott did not mention Powell’s career-making coverup of the My Lai massacre during his remarks.
“A brighter future is within our grasp,” Scott ended.
Cocktail Hell is a nameless service industry professional in Vermont.