In his inaugural address, Gov. Phil Scott identified a number of broad areas where he hopes to have a significant impact on the operations of state government. But Scott is leaving the details of these new proposals to his budget address that he'll deliver in 10 days.
Scott says he wants to link the growth rate of his budget to the wage growth of working Vermonters. It's believed this rate will be between 2 and 3 percent.
Scott notes that the budget for the Human Services Agency makes up half of the entire state budget. He says administrative costs for Medicaid have increased more than $100 million over the past seven years. That's why he's targeting this part of the budget to see if these functions can be streamlined in the future.
"I look for that opportunity and I feel that we can do things more efficiently more effectively and try and save some of those dollars without cutting the programs that are delivered to the most needy," Scott said Friday on Vermont Edition.
Scott also says he wants to "transform" the state's education system. He wants to put more money into early education programs because he says these are critical for a child's development.
At the same time, Scott wants to allocate more money for higher education because Vermont's support for post-secondary education is one of the lowest in the country.
Scott says he wants to achieve this goal without increasing overall spending on education, and he says that means that the money will have to come from Vermont's kindergarten through high school budgets.
Scott notes that Vermont has one of the nation's lowest student-to-teacher ratios, and he's looking at ways to expand this ratio as a way to save money.
"It's [a] difficult discussion to have,” said the governor. “This isn't going to be easy by any stretch, because when I give the budget address, it will be honest, it will be stark, but it will I believe set the tone for where we go in the future."
During the gubernatorial campaign, Scott said he wanted the state to close down its health insurance exchange, known as Vermont Health Connect, and move to the federal system. He says the uncertainty in Congress around the future of the Affordable Care Act makes it very difficult to take this step at this time.
So Scott says his administration will propose a new way for Vermonters to access health insurance coverage until the dust settles in Washington. But the governor is not providing any details now.
"We're going to take a look at Vermont Health Connect in many different aspects and try and do whatever we can to make this work for Vermonters and provide for health care at a price they can afford," said Scott.
Scott is also concerned about the possibility of additional federal budget cuts in the new Congress. He says one third of Vermont's budget is financed with federal dollars, and he says losing any of this money would pose huge challenges for his administration.
“We can't afford to have at this point in time, with a $70 million revenue downgrade now, and to have further federal dollars removed would be very much a challenge for us as we build this budget," said Scott.
Scott will deliver his budget address to a joint session of the Legislature on Thursday, Jan. 26. The House and Senate Appropriations committees will then spend several months shaping next year's state budget.