Scott signs $ 7.35 billion state budget
Governor Phil Scott on Tuesday signed a massive state budget of $ 7.35 billion which, backed by federal Covid-19 relief funds, is investing heavily in affordable and broadband housing projects and measures to fight against climate change.
This year’s spending program benefited from a financial windfall generated by the U.S. federal bailout law, giving the state more than $ 1 billion and the flexibility to use the money to meet the coronavirus pandemic and fund infrastructure projects.
The budget allocates $ 599 million of that federal money, including $ 150 million for broadband expansion, $ 120 million for drinking water projects and $ 52 million to update the state’s aging IT infrastructure.
The budget also allocates a combined $ 190 million of state and federal government dollars for affordable housing and efforts to relocate homeless people from the hotels and motels where they lived during the pandemic. An additional $ 50 million is earmarked for climate change measures, including nearly $ 20 million for weatherization projects.
In a statement Tuesday, Scott said this spending bill sets Vermont on a path to economic recovery and lays the groundwork for resolving “long-standing challenges” – including a labor shortage and the connection of all homes to high-speed Internet – which the state has faced for years.
“It’s a really transformational budget,” Scott said. “With smart state investments and a very strategic approach to the use of federal funds, this budget sets us on a new path to a more prosperous and fairer future for all of Vermont.”
Scott also signed a broadband bill, which will use $ 150 million to expand internet access statewide.
The legislation, H.360, makes the communications union districts a centerpiece of the state’s efforts to extend fiber optic networks to rural areas that lack adequate Internet service.
Communications Union Districts are community-owned fiber optic networks that serve multiple cities. The Vermont legislature established a legal framework for their operation in 2015, and more than a dozen have been trained or are under consideration, covering much of the state.
The new law will give Communications Union districts and small private Internet providers access to the $ 150 million so they can work to extend broadband to areas of the state that are not. served.
The Vermont Community Broadband Board, a new government entity, will be responsible for managing the broadband money and providing resources to the communications union districts.
Throughout the legislative session, the governor and Democratic Statehouse leaders agreed to make broadband development a top priority as well as develop a budget that addresses Vermont’s short- and long-term issues.
While Scott and lawmakers faced technical disagreements over how the billion dollars in federal money should be spent, they generally agreed on the major investments they would like to make in the years to come. come.
On Tuesday, Scott thanked the legislature for its “partnership” in working on the state’s vast budget and for ensuring that Vermont makes the most of the “unique opportunity” that comes with an influx. of $ 1 billion in federal money.
“We have shown that good balanced two-party government can make a real difference to the people and the state we serve,” Scott said.
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