The Vermont Legislature has returned to Montpelier. On the first day of the new session, Governor Howard Dean delivered his 11th and final State of the State address.
As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, it was a message mixed with state and national themes.
(Sound of House Chamber and House Speaker Walter Freed)
At a little past ten o’clock in the morning, House Speaker Walter Freed called the new session of the Legislature into order. Most of the official business on this first day was the introduction of new bills and the swearing in of several new members.
The highlight of the day was Governor Howard Dean’s final State of the State address, delivered to a joint assembly of the House and the Senate.
Dean devoted almost half of his speech to the events surrounding the terrorist attacks of September 11. The governor praised the thousands of Vermonters who have donated their time, energy and money to various relief efforts, and he called on the Legislature to take a stand against all forms of terrorism:
(Dean) “And I ask you to pass a bill that gives Vermont the authority to prosecute terrorists when their actions affect the lives of Vermonters. To make it illegal to raise money to support terrorism and to insure that our computer systems are protected from attackÂ¿. Vermont must also be ready to thwart any attack [with] biological, chemical or other weapons.”
Despite tough economic times, Dean pledged to go ahead with a plan to make $750,000 available in special tax credits for people who install alternative energy systems. Dean says it is a critical first step in achieving energy independence:
(Dean) “I think it is essential that Vermont and America reduce the dependence on foreign energy sources from nations which are not democratic, which do not respect the rights of women, which teach hate in their schools, which harbor those terrorists and others like them who murdered 3,000 people on September 11. It is time for energy independence.” (Sound of applause.)
In the second half of his speech, Dean focused on state issues and the Governor told lawmakers that passing a balanced budget is the most important job at hand:
(Dean) “I am optimistic. There are few of us in this room today who went through the 1990 recession and that was far more difficult. And I believe by making tough choices in 2002 and 2003, 2004 will be a better year for state revenues and the next governor and the next legislature will be able to resume the modest growth that we’ve had in the budget since I have been governor.”
Dean urged lawmakers to support a compromise plan to reform Act 60 – it’s one that will increase the statewide property tax rate to boost the state’s block grant and the plan would also limit the number of towns that would be subject to the sharing pool of the Act 60.
Dean also proposed an expansion of the Vermont Health Access Program that would allow small businesses that currently do not offer their employees health insurance coverage to buy into the state program. The governor also vowed to fight any effort to reduce eligibility guidelines for the state’s children’s health care program, known as Dr. Dynasaur.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.