MONTPELIER - On Jan. 6, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) delivered his inaugural address to a joint session of the General Assembly and special guests, including his parents, thanking the previous administration and outlining his plans for fiscal responsibility, job creation, health care reform, education, agriculture, entrepreneurial support and tax relief.
"Thank you, Gov. Douglas, for 38 years of exemplary public service to the Green Mountain state. We are grateful for your hard work and sacrifice on our behalf and to Dorothy and your family for sharing so much of your life with us."
Shumlin began his speech with a story from his childhood, how one teacher spent countless hours after school teaching him how to read.
"In the warm weather we sat on her lawn; in the cold weather we huddled around the wood stove; and slowly and creatively she taught me how to read," he said.
His reading teacher never gave up on him.
"I share that part of my life today because we are living in difficult times and we need to be creative to overcome our challenges," Shumlin said. "Let me be clear about the fiscal reality that our great state faces at this moment. After several years of making necessary but painful spending cuts, we are still confronted with a $150 million shortfall in the next fiscal year. Our economic challenges are real, and so is my firm commitment to address them responsibly and swiftly - with hard, sometimes painful but sustainable choices."
Balancing the state budget is only one aspect of Shumlin's proposed economic overhaul. Job creation is another.
"A clear vision for job growth and a bold plan to deliver that vision is what Vermont needs right now ... Vermont's diversified jobs future is bright. Manufacturing, deployment and production of renewable energy and efficiency, tourism, technology, and agriculture are all sectors of our economy with potential for unlimited growth.
"As we work to put Vermonters back to work, one job at a time, let us always be mindful that government does not create jobs; entrepreneurs do. What government must do is to make the necessary infrastructure choices that are essential to job growth for this new era. This agenda consists of five goals: expanding broadband, containing health care costs, educating our work force, providing tax fairness and credit for emerging businesses, and supporting a renaissance in Vermont agriculture. It is big, it is ambitious, and it is achievable if we view it as our common purpose."
Shumlin announced a new initiative - Connect VT - which promises high-speed Internet access and cell service throughout Vermont b 2013.
"If not confronted, our connectivity deficit will relegate us to an economic backwater," he said.
Health care reform is also on Shumlin's agenda, given the ever-increasing costs to residents and businesses. Those costs for the state have doubled, from $2.5 billion to more than $5 billion, in 10 years.
"That's why we must create a single-payer healthcare system that provides universal, affordable health insurance for all Vermonters that brings these skyrocketing costs under control," Shumlin said.
Shumlin reinforced his commitment to education and its importance to Vermont's economic future.
"It should be the policy of the state of Vermont that learning never ends," he said. "Working together in a partnership with our educational community we will close the gap between those Vermonters who want work and our job creators who have work to do."
Shumlin said agriculture in Vermont has potential for growth and that state officials should work with the Congressional delegation to support fair prices for dairy farmers, since Vermont produces more tan 60 percent of New England's milk. There are also market opportunities for Vermont-made food.
"The renaissance in Vermont agriculture is rooted in the growing concern by consumers across America about where and how their food is produced," he said. "Consumers are increasingly demanding locally grown, chemical-free, high quality food. We must take Vermont's strengths - buy local, farmers markets, farm to plate, Vermont Fresh Network restaurants - and expand our view of local to everything within 200 miles of Vermont, which includes Manhattan, Boston, and Montreal. Investing in processing and bottling facilities, combined with a dynamic marketing effort for Vermont quality foods, will bring our farmers the value-added price that they deserve for a hard day's work, and they will prosper."
Supporting entrepreneurs, according to Shumlin, is one key to job growth, but emerging enterprises and businesses first need access to capital and credit. Shumlin supports the existing EB-5 program.
"We must take this program to levels not imagined by its creators," he said. "EB-5 gives us a vehicle not only to raise essential capital, but also to spread Vermont's stellar reputation from one end of the globe to another."
Tax relief will also help the economic climate in Vermont, according to Shumlin.
"We must develop a tax policy that grows our customer base and grows wealth ... In order to grow jobs and be more competitive with neighboring states, we must resist the temptation to raise broad-based taxes."
Shumlin admits that his plan is job-growth plan is ambitious, even without his administration's other priorities: reducing recidivism for non-violent offenders; rebuilding roads and bridges; reforming campaign finance laws; and making government more transparent.
"Our obstacles are many, and our challenges are daunting ... We must intensify our individual efforts to nurture the health and well being of our state and its people. Together we can be bold. Together we must be bold. Let's begin now. Thank you."