By Gov. Peter Shumlin
When I came to office in January 2011, I pledged to work every day to help make Vermont a more economically secure place to live, work, and raise a family. Back in 2011 our state still faced serious headwinds from the Great Recession. Vermont had lost nearly 10,000 jobs in the previous three years. Our state’s General Fund revenues had fallen by nearly 15 percent and we faced a $176 million budget gap. And Vermonters were seeing their incomes grow more slowly than other Americans.
Five and a half years later, there is a different story playing out in Vermont. In addition to consistently having one of the lowest unemployment rates in America, we have seen Vermont employers add 18,000 jobs since January 2011. For the last five years, personal per capita income in Vermont, while not growing fast enough, has grown at or above the national average for the first time in our history. We have 38,000 more people with broadband internet access, thousands more children enrolled in pre-k, and hundreds more kids getting a jumpstart on paying for a higher education by earning college credit for free while still in high school. We’ve cut in half the number of roads and bridges in poor condition, increased by 10 times the amount of solar and by 20 times the amount of wind generation in this state, decreased electric bills for over 80 percent of Vermonters for three of the last four years, and expanded health care access to 19,000 Vermonters. We’ve reduced by 21 percent the number of Vermonters in prison while increasing by 65 percent the number in treatment for opiate addiction.
That’s progress we’ve made together over these last five and a half years. This year, working in partnership with the Legislature, we continued to make Vermont an even better place to live, work, and raise a family. Here’s just some of what we did this session:
Vermonters will no longer be faced with the decision of going to work sick or potentially losing their job because of a new law guaranteeing paid sick days.
Our state will become the first to extend no-cost birth control coverage to cover vasectomies, making it easier for men to be involved in important family planning decisions.
A new law will crack down on online dating scams after a number of Vermonters were ripped off for tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Vermont is now the fifth state to ban the dangerous and absurd practice of conversion therapy because we know that LGBT kids are perfect just the way they are.
The tens of thousands of Vermonters who have fallen behind on traffic fines and seen their licenses suspended now have a chance to get back on the road legally thanks to a law that corrects an unfair system that had adversely impacted many lower income Vermonters.
We transformed our juvenile criminal justice system to take a smarter approach that seeks to avoid imposing strict penalties on young people, which can hamper their chances for success later in life.
Our social workers will be better protected thanks to enhanced funding for security at state office buildings and a new law that creates stricter penalties for threatening or assaulting social workers.
Vermont will be the first state to require greater transparency of drug manufacturers when they increase the prices of prescription medications, requiring them to justify the increase to the attorney general’s office.
We now have additional tools to hold polluters responsible and help better control the use of potentially toxic chemicals in the state, which is especially important following the PFOA contamination of drinking water in Bennington, North Bennington, and Pownal.
We’re beginning to put an end to the days where doctors send patients home with enough prescription opiates to set off a lifetime of addiction thanks to a new law that will limit the amount of pills that can be prescribed for minor procedures like tooth extraction.
We expanded the conditions that qualify for medical marijuana, giving doctors an alternative to highly addictive opiates when treating some conditions such as chronic pain.
We passed a state budget that for the first time in a decade eliminates reliance on one-time money for ongoing state expenses, brings spending in line with the rate of growth in the economy, and invests in our most vulnerable Vermonters.
And we created a roadmap for how we continue to transform our energy system in Vermont while improving opportunities for our communities to have a say in the process, bringing to conclusion a sometimes challenging but necessary discussion about how to best plan for the locally-produced clean energy we need as we battle climate change, grow jobs, and work to reduce power rates.
At a time when gridlock hampers any progress in Washington, D.C, and many other states seem to be more intent on limiting the rights of their citizens rather than working to make life better, Vermont is once again standing out as a beacon for progress and equality. We have more work to do, but we should be proud of the progress we have made over the last five and a half years.
By Gov. Peter Shumlin