MONTPELIER – Gov. Peter Shumlin’s agenda for the year includes job creation and proposals to clean up the state’s waterways.
Shumlin took the oath of office Thursday afternoon and delivered an inaugural address that focused on cresting more green-energy jobs and pledged to take action to clean up Lake Champlain.
“I heard clearly in the election this fall that Vermonters expect more from me and from the state to improve their lives,” Shumlin said. “From jobs to the environment, I have an agenda for progress that I will partner with you to fulfill in this term and beyond.”
Shumlin touted what he sees as positive steps taken in Vermont this year: the closing of Vermont Yankee, new legislation mandating early childhood education and the steps taken in the clinics and the courts to stem the tide of opiate addiction.
Shumlin said his speech outlined the first part of what he called his “Agenda for Progress,” with the second part outlined during his budget address next week. The move left many listeners looking toward the next speech to address the issues of property taxes, education spending and health care, which remained an important issue for some spectators Thursday.
Prior to the governor’s speech, demonstrators occupied the floor of the House chamber with chants and songs in support of single-payer health care, a proposal long supported and recently shelved by Shumlin in the face of the tax hikes such a plan would require.
Instead, Shumlin proposed creating what he called the “Energy Innovation Program” to promote the creation of green-energy jobs. While the speech did not include any details about the program, Shumlin said it will create 1,000 new jobs and “save Vermonters hundreds of millions of dollars on their energy bills.”
As positive steps, Shumlin pointed to Waterbury-based solar installation company SunCommon and welcomed Rutland residents Mark and Sara Borkowski, who last year became the models for energy efficiency with the installation of electric-powered cold-weather heat pumps in their home.
“The Borkowskis remind us that our small rural state has all the ingredients needed to claim the mantel of the nation’s energy innovation leader, moving beyond dependance on wildly priced, dirty fossil fuels and helping our environment while spurring economic development, building jobs, saving energy dollars and improving the lives of Vermonters,” Shumlin said.
Shumlin also spoke in favor of taking steps to clean up Lake Champlain and other waterways in the Vermont. His budget will include $6.75 million for “technical assistance and and direct investment’ in water quality products. That proposed appropriation includes $1.6 million in state matching funds which will be leveraged to receive $8.2 million in grants from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Shumlin also said he would support legislation that would include what he called “teeth” for farmers who do not comply with clean-water laws.
“Similar to the way we treat foresters, farmers who are not following the required practices that prevent pollution should not enjoy the property tax reduction of current use until they do the work required of them,” Shumlin said.
Shumlin’s speech received a mostly-standing ovation from lawmakers, but was punctuated by the chanting of demonstrators, who entered the floor of the House Chamber and challenged House Speaker Shap Smith to schedule a hearing on Shumlin’s shelved single-payer plan.