RIPTON — At the annual Governor’s Lunch on Monday, Gov. Peter Shumlin outlined the five major initiatives he says are necessary to raise the amount of money in Vermonters’ pockets.
“We’ve got to raise income,” he told a group of more than 60 gathered at Ripton’s Rikert Nordic Center for the event, an annual component of the Addison County Legislative Breakfast series.
Shumlin emphasized the need to drive up personal incomes to keep pace with the rate of inflation and other increased costs families are seeing. Shumlin said incomes haven’t increased in a decade.
While statistics from the Vermont Department of Labor show that the per-capita personal income level grew 42.2 percent from $28,196 in 2000 to $40,098 in 2010 (the most recent year audited), federal data shows that Northeastern inflation has risen 31.84 percent
Raising incomes in Vermont, Shumlin said, is contingent upon:
1. Connecting the entire state to high-speed broadband by 2013.
“I believe that if this thing doesn’t work, which it doesn’t here (in Ripton), we’re not going to make it,” he said.
Tying the state together via broadband is crucial to job success for two main reasons, said Shumlin. One, it will better connect the state to outside markets, while improving communication. And two, young professionals won’t come to a state with poor Internet connectivity because it pervades most facets of their lives.
2. Improving education by making math a requirement in secondary education.
“If we can be the education state from early child education to higher education to workforce retraining, we win on thejobs front,” Shumlin said.
Requiring students to take math classes like algebra and geometry in high school will provide students with brighter futures, he said. Shumlin pointed to poor standardized test scores across the state for math and science. And he explained that Vermont business owners can’t find enough workers trained in science, information technology and math to fill the many technical jobs available in the state.
3. Expanding the state’s renewable energy portfolio.
“We’re moving to renewables — wind, solar, biomass and small hydro — as quickly as we know how,” Shumlin said, adding that local energy production keeps more jobs and money in Vermont.
The state recently adopted a new energy plan — the first since 1998 — that calls for 90 percent of Vermont’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2050. The Legislature is also working on a law that would require utilities to increase their renewable energy portfolios by a certain percentage over 20 years. The exact percentage is up for debate in Montpelier.
4. Keeping health care costs under control.
Rising healthcare costs are crushing Vermont family finances and hurting small businesses, Shumlin said. By 2015, his administration calculates, the average Vermonter will spend $2,500 more on health care than they are today.
To address this issue, the Vermont House last month passed a bill that — according to Rep. Mike Fisher, a Lincoln Democrat and chair of the House Health Care Committee — would enable Vermont households at certain income levels to tap into tax credits for health insurance and cap the amount households would pay for health insurance.
Shumlin addressed doubters who have taken issue with moving the state towards the “unknown” world of universal healthcare:
“I keep saying as a small businessman who was born and raised in this state … it’s the known that is scaring me.”
5. Expanding the agricultural sector.
“I continue to be really encouraged by the progress we’re making with ag in Vermont,” he said. “Our best days are ahead of us and not behind us … Between our farm-to-plate, burgeoning farmers’ markets and getting our value-added agriculture products within and out of Vermont, we’re really seeing a great renaissance in ag.”
Although the number of dairy farms in Vermont dropped 96 percent over the past nine decades, according to the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund Farm-to-Plate Report, Shumlin asserts that the dairy farmers that still exist are stronger than ever. He also pointed to diverse-crop farms and value-added producers, like specialty cheese manufacturers, as growing sectors of Vermont’s agricultural patchwork.
After unfolding his plan, Shumlin took questions from the audience.
John Ball of Addison voiced concern about the Senate’s 25-4 vote earlier this month on a bill that would require all children to be vaccinated. The proposed law would end the ability for parents to opt-out of the vaccinations for their children for philosophical reasons, and would only allow exemptions based on religious beliefs.
Worried the Legislature is being influenced by the pharmaceutical industry and that it’s not acting in accordance with the general will of the people, Ball asked Shumlin for his view of the bill.
The governor took a clear stance opposing the amended law as it currently stands.
“I am not a believer that government should tell parents what they should inject in their kids,” he said. “My objection to the Senate bill is that it requires one to — in effect — use religion as a way to justify not getting the inoculations. I don’t think that’s the right choice.”
He said he’d like to see a bill that educates parents and children about different immunization options and puts the power to make such personal decisions in parents’ hands.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at firstname.lastname@example.org.