Vermont’s governor focuses on rural infrastructure assistance as he resumes weekly briefings

Vermont Governor Phil Scott has resumed holding weekly briefings. As the legislature begins a new biennium, he and members of his administration focused today on a proposal to help rural communities.

Scott is requesting a $3 million Rural Infrastructure Assistance Program be included in a Budget Adjustment bill. The Republican says the funds would help small communities access and manage grants and funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act or ARPA.

“It’s clear that towns and villages across Vermont want to take advantage of the state and federal funding that was appropriated last year. Because many of these towns have small selectboards with part-time clerks, they often rely on community volunteers to determine priority projects, submit applications and if successful they then try to manage them with all the reporting that comes along with it. They’re simply not equipped to deal with them like Burlington, Rutland or Montpelier is, who have full-time staff who typically apply for and manage the grant funding.”

Agency of Administration Deputy Secretary Douglas Farnham said the Rural Infrastructure Assistance Program has been proposed in the Budget Adjustment because there is a “high degree of urgency” and they cannot wait for the general budget bill to be passed at the end of the session.

“We only have until the end of next year to obligate the full $1.05 billion of ARPA state fiscal recovery. And at this point we estimate over $400 million of that one billion is already obligated. So all of these programs that were authorized over the last two years they are in flight, they are moving forward. And we want to make sure that small towns have the fullest opportunity to participate in these programs.”

Farnham acknowledged that the program isn’t really new, but rather a method to get technical assistance to communities that need it the most.

“We know from our conversations in multiple counties now that the barriers to participation are high for these towns. They need it to be easy. The types of programs that would be eligible: water quality infrastructure, housing development, community recovery, workforce development and business supports, climate change mitigation. Not every project is going to fit squarely into those boxes.”

Governor Scott was asked a number of questions about activity in the legislature. The House Judiciary Committee will take testimony Wednesday and Thursday on H.89, a proposed law to shield abortion providers and patients from out-of-state litigation. Scott said he isn’t familiar with the specifics but supports the concept.

“We want to protect anyone who is providing a service here in Vermont. But I don’t know what that piece of legislation will entail. I mean I have no real problem with it.”

Scott also expressed support for legalization of sports betting this session.

“We’ve studied it for quite some time. Much like the use of cannabis it’s something that has been utilized for quite some time. Reality is most of the states around us are doing something and we just need to find a path forward so that we can provide for the protections necessary to make it viable.”