In his farewell address to lawmakers Wednesday afternoon, outgoing governor Peter Shumlin said he believes the state is in much better shape than when he first took office in January 2011.
Peter Shumlin ended his political career where it started: in the Vermont House. Shumlin was appointed to fill a vacancy from Putney in 1990 and he delivered his farewell gubernatorial address from the House chamber.
Shumlin reminded lawmakers that he became governor during the Great Recession, a time when Vermont lost hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue. In the winter of 2011, the state's unemployment rate was just over 6 percent. Today, it stands at roughly 3 percent.
"Our record of fiscal responsibility is one that we should all be proud of and we did it while keeping the promise not to raise income tax rates, sales tax rates, rooms and meals tax rates on hard working Vermonters because they're already too high," Shumlin said in his remarks Wednesday.
Shumlin acknowledged that his record on health care is mixed. He disappointed many supporters when he abandoned plans to implement a single-payer health care system in December of 2014. And his administration's roll out of the state's health care exchange was plagued with many problems. Shumlin says most of those problems have been fixed and Vermont's uninsured rate is just 2.7 percent, the second lowest in the country.
"While we didn't accomplish all of our goals, over 25,000 Vermonters who didn't have health insurance when I became governor do now," Shumlin said, "meaning that they no longer have to worry that one serious illness or accident could send them in to bankruptcy."
In 2014, Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State address to Vermont's growing opiate crisis. The Administration changed the state's approach for addicts from punishment and incarceration to treatment. Shumlin says it was a critical reform.
"The crisis of opiate and heroin addiction did not begin in Vermont but Vermont began the national conversation about how to do it better," said Shumlin. "Most importantly we got rid of the stigma for the disease so that you can hold your head high and head into recovery."
Shumlin also touted his administration's push to develop Vermont's renewable energy industry. He says roughly 6 percent of the state's workforce is now employed in this field. He also defended his support for large-scale wind projects, which have become controversial in some communities.
"We have 12 times the number of solar panels and 25 times the amount of wind power, which I still say is the most efficient renewable available to us, and our utilities are transforming into cutting edge energy efficiency companies," said Shumlin.
In his most partisan comments, Shumlin urged lawmakers to remain vigilant to the policies of President-elect Donald Trump.
"Our nation has stumbled backwards," he said. "And America needs Vermont's leadership now more than ever."
Shumlin says he's looking forward to returning to Putney and becoming more involved in his family's student travel business.