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Vermont governor reiterates state’s demographic challenge

January 9, 2020 GMT
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The Vermont State Police remove climate change protesters from the house chambers at the Vermont State House, in Montpelier, Vt.,  as they interrupt Vermont Gov. Phil Scott's  State of the State address on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. (Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP)
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The Vermont State Police remove climate change protesters from the house chambers at the Vermont State House, in Montpelier, Vt.,  as they interrupt Vermont Gov. Phil Scott's  State of the State address on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. (Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP)

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Gov. Phil Scott reiterated his long-standing call Thursday to rescue Vermont, with its stagnant, aging population, from a demographic crisis that is preventing much of the state from growing while the tax base shrinks.

During his 40-minute speech to a joint assembly of the Vermont House and Senate, Scott said that compared with 2000, there are today 55,000 fewer people in Vermont under the age of 45 and 44,000 more over the age of 65.

In different parts of the state there is a large gap between median home prices, median household income, average wage and more, he said.

“My friends, this is what a demographic crisis looks like,” Scott said. “In too many places, and in the lives of too many Vermonters, I see and feel the emotional and financial toll of policies built for a few areas in the state that can afford them when the rest of the state cannot.”

The Republican governor also restated his long-standing call for civility in government.

“It’s up to us to show that people from different backgrounds, with different points of view, can unit around our core values and common humanity,” he said. “It’s up to us to prove that listening to, and learning from, each other is far more constructive. And it’s up to us to seek consensus where it can be found and compromise where it cannot.”

Scott was several minutes into his speech when a group of climate activists began to chant, forcing him to stop. Scott waited awhile before asking the activists to let him finish his speech.

When they wouldn’t stop, the assembly was adjourned and police escorted 16 protesters out of the chamber. One person was arrested on a charge of suspicion of disorderly conduct. The other protesters were released.

The disruption lasted about 20 minutes.

After the speech Democratic leaders of the House and Senate said they agreed with the governor’s call for civility and they were eager to work with the administration in the upcoming session.

“There weren’t a lot of policy details,” said Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, a Progressive and Democrat.

Democratic Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson said there were a number of places where the governor signaled he is willing to work with lawmakers to seek solutions to some of the complicated issues facing the state, such as land use planning reform and expanded learning opportunities.

“I’m encouraged,” Johnson said after the speech.

The loss of working Vermonters and a stagnant economy has been a theme of Scott’s three years as governor. He noted that in the past 12 years only three counties have added workers while the other 11 have lost a total of about 18,000.

“If we don’t break this cycle, our institutions, including state and local government, won’t be able to afford what we currently do, or what they would like to do in the future, because costs will continue to rise faster than our tax base can sustain,” he said.

He highlighted some of the programs that have been introduced to try to attract new workers, including a program that paid people, who meet certain criteria, to move to Vermont. The program has attracted worldwide attention and brought 371 people to Vermont who are living in 68 communities in 13 counties.

He also outlined training and apprenticeship programs, efforts to build more affordable housing and investments in electric vehicles as one of many ways to fight climate change.

One new proposal was creating a universal after school program designed to ensure each child has access to opportunities outside the classroom. More details are expected in his budget address later this month.