Governor Peter Shumlin delivered his State of the State address this afternoon at the Statehouse.
Shumlin called for the expansion of a number of programs to strengthen the state economy and he asked lawmakers to repeal a controversial educational spending cap.
Shumlin was greeted warmly by a joint session of the House and Senate to deliver his sixth and final annual address. In many respects, the speech was an overview of the legacy that Shumlin hopes to leave when he vacates the governor's office next year.
The governor called for an expansion of Vermont's Enterprise Fund, a program that's used to encourage new businesses to expand in the state.
He also pointed to job growth in the renewable energy sector over the past five years. But he opposed the construction of very large solar facilities that have been proposed for several parts of the state.
"Rejecting mega solar projects that gobble up hundreds and hundred of acres and will require Vermonters to pay for costly grid upgrades,” Shumlin said. “We must also reject anti-renewable extremists who would shut down renewables through moratoriums and other job-killing tactics.”
Shumlin also wants Vermont to join with California to divest state pension funds from coal companies and other fossil fuel based businesses. He reminded lawmakers that Vermont is "down wind of the coal fired plants to our west."
“We're the tailpipe to their dirty energy choices.” Shumlin continued. “Their pollution sickens our children, creates acid rain, dumps mercury on our forests and in our lakes and increases greenhouse gas emissions."
Shumlin called for an expansion of opiate treatment programs and he wants to limit how many pills can be included in a prescription for the pain killer Oxycontin - a drug that he says "lit the match that ignited America's opiate and heroin crisis."
At the same, Shumlin said he would back the legalization of marijuana if the bill addresses concerns about driving while impaired, and if the money generated from a state tax is used to expand addiction prevention programs.
“That's why I will work with you to craft the right bill that thoughtfully and carefully eliminates the era of prohibition that is currently failing us so miserably," he said.
Shumlin gave his strong support to the paid sick leave bill. The measure passed the House last year and is pending in the Senate. It initially awards all full time employees at least three days of paid time off a year.
The governor says most food workers say that they go to work when they are sick and many foodborne illnesses are the result of the handling of food by someone who is ill.
"Vermonters who are sick shouldn't have to choose between going to work or losing their job,” Shumlin said. “This isn't just about fairness to employees it's about protecting all of us."
Shumlin also called for the repeal of the spending caps in Act 46 — the state's new school district consolidation law. Many school boards say the caps are unfair because health care costs and personnel costs are growing faster than the allowable spending limit. Shumlin agrees.
"The rigid spending caps that were a tiny part of the bill I believe has become the enemy of the good,” said Shumlin.
House Minority leader Don Turner has a very different point of view on this issue. Turner says the caps are an important way to begin to control education costs and reduce property tax burdens. He says he can't support Shumlin's plan.
"No way, not a chance,” Turner said. “I mean, he's leaving town. I mean, I understand why for him it's ‘oh we'll just make it go away for a year’ but then he's gone and many of us will be back, hopefully in the next biennium, and we'll be dealing with this all over again."
Republican Lt. Governor Phil Scott, who is running for governor this year, said in a prepared statement that "he is pleased that the governor is choosing to put some focus on economic growth" and that Shumlin is building on suggestions that Scott has “proposed over the past few years."