Scott offers no concrete solution to increasing higher ed. funding

Vermont state lieutenant governor, and Republican gubernatorial candidate, Phil Scott visited Johnson State College on Oct. 19 to discuss many topics including the future of higher education in Vermont.
Scott was at JSC visiting Professor of Humanities and State Senator Bill Doyle’s Vermont Politics class as part of Doyle’s Vermont Politics Speaker Series.

Scott offered no remedies for increasing state appropriations for the Vermont State Colleges, at the bottom of state fiscal support for public colleges nationwide. State funds account for about 17 percent of the state colleges’ revenue, the rest being derived from tuition.

“I think that it may not be adequate for Vermont to have some of the lowest funding for their state colleges, but I think it’s all we can do at this time,” Scott said.

Regarding the issue of how the approximately $84 million in state appropriations for higher education is distributed among the five state colleges, Vermont Student Assistance Corporation and University of Vermont, Scott said, “I don’t want to pit the University of Vermont against the state colleges, but I do think there needs to be some parity…I’ve always thought that the state colleges should get their fair share.”

Currently UVM receives roughly half of the state appropriation, with the rest being divided among the five state colleges and VSAC. UVM serves approximately 3,000 full-time Vermont students while the VSC serves over 9,000.

In the future, Scott thinks that it will be best to create a healthier, more vibrant economy, where Vermont might be able to do more to cut down on the overall cost of education for individuals.

Scott said he thinks that improving Vermont’s economy will help bring more revenue into state coffers, which would, among other things, improve the funding outlook for the VSC. “We need to invest in our youth and our workforce training along with higher education,” he said.

In a more vibrant economy, Scott said, Vermont might be able to do more to cut down the overall cost of education for individuals. Referring to the student loan debt many students face upon graduation Scott said, “I think that this should be something that Congress should be dealing with as well. It’s beyond everything seeing how they can get away with charging 8 or 9 percent for student loans when we give away money to many different entities at zero percent.”

Above all else, Scott feels the issue most crucial to Vermont is economic with everything linked to issues of spending and revenue. “I think that from the demographic standpoint the issue of affordability is the main issue that the state is currently facing,” he said.

Scott noted that Vermont’s population of roughly 625,000 has remained fairly consistent over the few years “What’s changing is the demographic, we are getting older as a society,” said Scott. “We have about 30,000 less people in the category of 25-45 years old…It gets more costly when you have less people here, and if you have a less healthy economy it costs more.”

Scott asserted that along with the demographic issue of aging, the state is facing a shortage in the work force, which he attributes to the comparatively high cost of living in Vermont.

“What we need to do is work towards keeping more youth here and encourage more people to come. It’s a vicious cycle,” said Scott. “If we can’t keep people here, we are putting more pressure on things that cost more money. I believe that we need to put the same emphasis on trying to grow the economy that we do on other initiatives that the state has had.

The underlying problem according to Scott is that Vermont has been spending more money than it has been taking in, and raising taxes seems to be the default remedy. “We are being over optimistic in terms of revenue projection,” he said. “We are spending at a rate of five percent growth, when in actuality we have about two or three percent coming in. We need to set some goals to help give businesses more confidence, without constantly altering tax policies. This will keep businesses from either getting smaller, or leaving the area.”

From a state standpoint, Scott wants to stop increasing the cost of doing business in the short run. “I think that as a state we need to be better partners,” says Scott. “We need to treat our citizens and businesses more as customers rather than adversaries. I think that there are many ways that we can both create confidence and stability in business, along with also growing the economy.”

That confidence, Scott says, begins with aligning spending to revenues: “We need to return to the fundamentals of a budget so we aren’t spending more than we are taking in.”

The legalization of marijuana, which Vermont Attorney William Sorrell feels may happen as early as 2016, would be premature, according to the lieutenant governor, who urges a wait-and-see policy. “We have four other states that have legalized, and we have the perfect opportunity to study the positive and negative effects that it’s had on those states,” says Scott.

Scott noted that Vermont has struggled with alcohol impairment on its highways. “There is not a good way to determine impairment of those under the influence of marijuana at this point and time,” says Scott. He thinks that it would be best to wait until there is a better way of determining impairment.
Scott is a native Vermonter who grew up in Barre. He graduated from Spaulding High School, and later on from UVM.

He was elected to the Vermont senate in 2000 representing Washington County. He served five terms as the chair of the Vermont’s Institutions Committee, and vice chair of the Vermont Transportation Committee. Scott was elected to be Vermont’s lieutenant governor in 2010.