Opening Remarks for 75th Biennium
Good morning - It is my distinct honor and pleasure to preside before you for another Biennium. As is true for all of you, I do not arrive here without the help of many people: my family, friends, neighbors and most importantly, the thousands of Vermonters from around the state who have placed their trust in me. To all of them, I extend a hearty thank you.
We are so fortunate here in Vermont to have a healthy democracy. Our job is to maintain that trust, preserved by our ability to work together. Service to Vermont will guide us over the hurdles and across the ravines that we face on this challenging yet incredibly important journey. Our broad decisions affect individual Vermonters. Senators of all three parties have shown that you can and do work closely and collaboratively to meet the needs of all Vermonters. We know that when we work together, recognize the unique perspective each person brings, dedicate ourselves to a process of honesty and inclusion and remember we were elected to serve Vermonters, we make Vermont a better place for everyone.
As we enter the New Year, the World is witnessing from Washington the exact opposite of how our democracy should operate. Around the Country and here in Vermont we have felt the negative consequences of last-minute gamesmanship and a deep partisan divide that’s been brought on by financial interests, ego and sound bite politics. Right now in Vermont, 1,491 Federal employees are working without pay to maintain the services and programs we rely on. Many more Vermont-based Federal contractors are out of work completely. With our Town Meeting tradition and our pride in democracy, Vermont can and must be an example for Washington. Our citizens deserve to be more than political pawns.
This Biennium we have the opportunity to pass legislation that will ease the struggle for many. Affordability has two parts; expenses and income. We can and must work on both. Since 1980, while the wealthiest have seen their incomes climb dramatically, working class Vermonters have seen their incomes remain flat. The most tangible ways we can improve affordability for working Vermonters is by raising the minimum wage and enacting Universal Healthcare. When wages increase just 50¢ an hour, a full-time worker adds $1000 to their pocket over the year. Enacting paid family leave would also have a direct and positive impact on families around our state.
In Vermont, and in this Chamber, we know how to nurture and strengthen our democracy. In the past when Vermonters have struggled, we came together. We know what we need:
- We need more job training opportunities for Vermonters ready to fill the 10,000 job vacancies we currently have.
- We need clean water for personal health and agriculture and our recreational and tourist economies. Water is life.
- We need broadband extended into more corners of Vermont to boost our rural economy and support our farms.
- We have a planet that is telling us we must change our fossil fuel consumption and we need to respond by investing to meet climate goals already in statute.
- All Vermonters, our businesses, municipalities, schools and personal households need affordable and efficient healthcare.
- We need all members of our state treated fairly and with equal justice in; education, employment, religion, housing and criminal justice, regardless of where they are from, who they love or the color of their skin.
We have everything we need to make progress right here in this Chamber. We each bring our knowledge and skills to the table. Every day we bring our commitment to and love for this great state into this building. We can do this.
- Let’s find ways to make home ownership possible for more Vermonters. This alone is one of the greatest steps to economic security.
- Let’s seize the opportunity to improve our infrastructure, including broadband, in a way that reduces fossil fuel dependency, recognizes the challenges of those living in rural communities, and improves affordability for hard working Vermonters.
- Let’s continue to recognize our Veterans and First Responders and seek further opportunities to recruit, retain and reward those who serve to protect us and maintain our freedoms and opportunities.
- When we recognize our implicit biases and change our Constitution and laws, we can improve the daily life for all our citizens.
- We can thoughtfully examine and carefully amend our Constitution to reflect the 21st century by guaranteeing equal protections under the law for everyone, including women, people of color and LGBTQ sisters and brothers and removing all mention of slavery from its doctrine.
All of this is possible. In this building and from political leaders of all parties I’ve experienced great collaboration, seen impressive, thoughtful and diligent debate and been inspired by the dedication of all who serve. In the future we will be judged by how we came together and the positive results we achieved for all Vermonters. This is a new beginning, and we have been entrusted to find solutions and rebuild faith in our democratic institutions. I look forward to working with you, and for you, during the next two years. Thank you for this opportunity and responsibility.