At the start of every legislative new year the governor speaks to a joint session of the House and Senate to describe his priorities for the legislative session. This is a formal speech marked by carefully crafted remarks designed to inspire.
Last week’s speech by Governor Phil Scott did not disappoint. In addition to laying out his vision, he came back, again and again, to the theme of civility in government. Scott noted the bitter political divide plaguing the country. He urged Vermont to set an example of bipartisanship for the rest of the nation. And I agree.
Over my many years in public office I saw colleagues from other states struggling to get things done in the highly partisan environments they faced in their statehouses. But, in Vermont, whether Republicans or Democrats were in charge, we were able to solve problems when we worked together.
Of course, working across party lines is not the only challenge. Even when the governor and legislative leadership come from the same political party there can be serious tensions as priorities are set and legislation is crafted.
I was pleased to hear Scott mention the need to fund the cleanup of Lake Champlain and acknowledge the threat of climate change, and our obligation to remove greenhouse gas emissions - but making progress on these issues will not neatly square with his promise to hold the line on raising revenue. We also cannot forget the people of Bennington who have been the victims of wells contaminated with the dangerous chemical PFOA. The legislature is crafting bills to address all of these issues, and more.
Controlling the costs of government is important, but Scott has not yet adequately explained how he would raise – and spend - the funds needed to support our collective priorities. And nowhere in his speech did Scott address the biggest elephant in the room - President Trump. The Trump administration is starving the federal government and is backing away from its obligation to protect the environment, public health and the most vulnerable. States like ours will have to step up to fill the gap.
There’s a lot of work ahead for our elected leaders. But it’s clear that despite their differences, the legislature and governor have a shared vision and a commitment to working together. They’re off to a great start.