The governor also continued pushing several proposals the Legislature has so far rebuffed, including an effort to merge the Department of Liquor Control and the Lottery Commission. He called the failure to achieve that proposal his biggest disappointment in an initial three months he said were otherwise marked by progress and a needed shift in priorities.
“I’m very pleased with the progress we’re making, and the important conversations we’re having. But there is much more work to do over the next 21 months of this term. There is a sense of optimism I’m seeing as I travel the state,” Scott said.
“Vermonters know that if we all pull in the same direction — if we make the economy and affordability our focus and work hard to make change — we can chart a course to a more prosperous future and make a difference in the lives of Vermonters,” he said.
At a news conference flanked by members of his administration, Scott focused on accomplishments and didn’t dwell on proposals that had been rejected, including a move to curb spending on K-through-12 education to boost spending for early and higher education.
Several lawmakers saw a less rosy view of Scott’s first 100 days and criticized him for not engaging in a back-and-forth with legislators to come up with mutually agreeable ideas. For example, lawmakers have criticized Scott for not coming up with another education proposal once his original idea was viewed as a nonstarter.
“What I hear from my senators is they’d like to see the governor more involved in the process in this building,” said Windham County Sen. Becca Balint, the Democratic majority leader. “There seems to be a different tenor and tone in terms of commitment to his own policies.”
“We’re not always quite sure where the ship is headed,” she said of the Scott administration.
Sen. Chris Pearson, P/D-Chittenden, echoed Balint’s view that Scott’s administration has been disengaged from the legislative process.
“My assessment is they have not been very present in the Legislature proposing changes and really engaging in a public process that I’ve seen in my time here. So compared to the Shumlin administration and the Douglas administration, they’ve been very standoffish,” Pearson said.Rep. Kurt Wright, a Burlington Republican, said Scott’s focus on affordability had “shifted the paradigm” in Montpelier and — as Scott claimed at the news conference — that the governor’s veto threat had held lawmakers in check on spending.
“Under another governor, we probably would have been passing a budget and tax bills that would have had taxes and fees, so I think that’s a big success for him,” Wright said.
Scott said his “commitment” to vetoing the state budget if it raised taxes or fees had led the House to pass a balanced budget with no new taxes.
Scott’s education proposal, Wright said, was poorly presented and included ideas, such as moving school voting from March to May, that were unacceptable. But he said Scott has won in the eyes of the public regardless.
“I think that clearly out of the gate there was some stumbling over the education bill. I don’t think that was rolled out in the best way,” Wright said. “There were things in there I just couldn’t support. … But on that big issue, I think he’s won the day” because the public sees him fighting for lower school spending.
Scott cited three trade trips to Canada, the nomination of a Supreme Court justice and the appointment of two lawmakers among his accomplishments. He also highlighted modernization and efficiency programs, including changes in the use of the state vehicle fleet, that have saved money. And he listed as accomplishments the immigration bill he trumpeted and the $150 million in settlements reached with the brokerage firm in the Jay Peak fraud scandal to pay back investors and contractors. The bulk of that amount comes in a deal between a court-appointed receiver and the brokerage.
Scott acknowledged failing to come up with a way to deal with Vermonters on the “benefit cliff” who lose public aid when they go back to work, a proposal he promised to come up with in the first 100 days when on the campaign trail.
“Everything is harder than I thought,” Scott said and smiled when a reporter asked why the proposal wasn’t finished.Pearson gave the administration credit on the immigration bill and said Scott had separated himself from President Donald Trump.
“I would say they’ve done a pretty good job finding places to poke against the Trump administration and offered themselves as a contrast to that, but in the nuts and bolts of changing laws they have been noticeably absent,” Pearson said.
Scott mentioned repeatedly in the news conference his desire to see the merger of the lottery and Liquor Control Department go forward and said he was hopeful Senate support would push House lawmakers to reconsider their initial disapproval. The governor had issued an executive order calling for the merger. But he said he would not force it through by using a legal dispute over whether both chambers need to reject an executive order. It would be better to wait another year, he said, and get legislative buy-in.
The governor said he would continue to focus in the next few months on workforce development and attacking the opiate addiction problem. He highlighted his focus on “6-3-1” — six fewer people in the workforce every day, three fewer students on average every day, and almost one child per day born addicted to opiates.
“We must grow the workforce in order to grow the economy, invest in our future and care for the most vulnerable — and that means we have to make Vermont more affordable for families and businesses. That’s the bottom line,” Scott said.
“He’s taken time to settle into the office — it’s a new role for him,” said House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero. “I think the part where we’re struggling is waiting for, having taken quite a bit of the session to wait for some key posts to be filled,” including a commissioner of environmental conservation, which “slows down some of the legislative session a bit.”
“I think trying to learn when’s the time to draw the lines in the sand and put the ideas out there and when is the time to sort of come to the table and say, ‘OK, Vermonters handed us divided government and now’s the time to work through some of our initial statements and begin to work together,’” Johnson said. “We’re figuring that piece out.”
Scott said he and the Legislature are “still trying to jockey for position” and that there was a natural “friction” between the two branches of government.