Vermont Governor Shumlin calls for divestment and job creation

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin gave his sixth and final State of the State address to the Vermont Legislature on Thursday.
The uncharacteristically lengthy speech was a victory lap through memory lane, with a listing of accomplishments that lasted more than an hour. In the past, Shumlin, who has difficulty delivering long speeches because of his dyslexia, has kept his addresses short. This time, however, the governor spared no detail and appeared to be determined to defend his three terms in office.
Along the way, Shumlin, who decided last June not to run again, announced modest new programs that largely build on his record.
New initiatives were limited to national and international policy matters that had little to do with the pressing budget and economic problems the state faces. Shumlin called on the state to divest its retirement funds from the coal industry and from oil giant Exxon Mobil, pointing to activist Bill McKibben, who has been one of the nation’s most prominent figures in calling for divestment, seated in the balcony. The governor also said he would “make our state a beacon of hope and hospitality to Muslims, to our Syrian brothers and sisters, and to all who seek to build a better life right here in Vermont.”
Before he launched into his broad-ranging policy speech, Shumlin sounded a personal note with the introduction of “my love” and “your first lady,” Katie Hunt, whom he married last month in a private ceremony.
As he did in his first speech in 2011, Shumlin invoked the only other governor to hail from Putney: George Aiken.
This time, however, Shumlin compared himself directly to the legendary governor and senator, who 75 years ago “put into practice new functions of government that were either unforeseen or in the visionary stage a few years ago.”
Like Aiken, the governor said he has pursued “transformative and systemic” change.
“From day one, I made it clear that I didn’t run for this office to be a caretaker,” Shumlin said. “I ran to get tough things done. I ran for governor because Vermont is a great state. I wanted to make it greater.”
But Shumlin’s final speech was less about being a catalyst for change, and more about extending existing policies on mostly safe political ground with a state Legislature that is dominated by Democrats.
He touted his record on jobs, claiming that he has added 17,600 new jobs in past five years and has “grown per capita incomes at or above the national rate every year I have been governor, and that has never happened in Vermont’s history.”
Much of the governor’s speech carefully sounded by-now familiar themes — job creation, changes to the criminal justice system, installation of more renewable energy projects and expansion of opiate treatment programs.
While the modest initiatives Shumlin announced are extensions of existing policies, many of the changes will be controversial and are sure to capture headlines.
The governor called for the state to cap the number of opiate painkillers doctors can prescribe to 10 pills for routine medical treatments, and blamed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for causing the opiate crisis in the first place.
He also told the Legislature to send him a bill that would prevent Vermonters from losing their licenses for non-traffic-related offenses; he said the measure would end the need for driver restoration days.
In the same speech, Shumlin said the state must “deliberately and cautiously” legalize marijuana in order to “get rid of” the illegal drug trade and impose a low tax that will “wipe out” the black market.
Shumlin said he continue to invest in “homegrown” energy and would “reject” calls from “anti-renewable extremists who would shut down renewables through moratoriums and other job-killing tactics.”
But he also railed against large commercial solar installations and softened his stance on solar siting. Shumlin said he would support incentives for locating solar on rooftops, gravel pits, brownfields and landfills.
Shumlin said his administration has added 17,600 new jobs in past five years and has “grown per capita incomes at or above the national rate every year I have been governor” for the first time in Vermont’s history.
He also took credit for 4,400 new farm jobs and keeping and attracting manufacturing jobs at places like GW Plastics in South Royalton. He used the speech to announce that BHS Composites from Quebec — the formerly anonymous Canadian company that was offered $200,000 from the Enterprise Fund — would officially be relocating to St. Johnsbury.
He wants to expand the Enterprise Fund, which started in 2014 with $2.4 million and has been used in the past few months to give money to businesses. He announced a partnership with GlobalFoundries to mentor workers in the Burlington area.
Company representatives said in an interview they will participate in the program for no charge because they have a corporate goal to increase worker education. The mentoring will focus on “soft skills” such as résumé-writing and interviewing skills.
The audience laughed when he bragged about Vermont’s food and beverage sector.
“In the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of moving the Best Cheese in America award from one Vermont farm to another Vermont farm,” he said. “Take that, Wisconsin.”
He added: “Long known to out-of-staters for our great deer hunting, flatlanders are now coming to Vermont to beer hunt. They are literally rising at dawn to drive to the promised land, where they stand in a long line and wait, and wait and wait some more to purchase Vermont’s world award-winning beers, which they carry back with them in the trunks of their cars to lift up their miserable lives because they don’t live in Vermont.”
It’s no surprise that the governor supports a paid sick leave bill that many in the business community have resisted, but passed the House in the 2015 session and now sits in the Senate, where other Democratic leaders support the bill.
He reiterated that he wants to repeal school spending caps brought forth in Act 46, the school governance bill. He has proposed a free semester of courses for first generation and low-income students called “Step Up.”
He also wants to use state funding to augment private funding to provide $250 college savings accounts for every child born in the state and $500 savings account for every low-income child born in the state.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., made a rare appearance at the State of the State address.
Leahy said Shumlin’s speech “was not the speech of a lame duck, bye-bye I’m gone, this was hey, folks we’ve got some work to do.”
Shumlin will unveil plans for health care reform in his budget address on Jan. 21.

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