The Mountain Times

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Shumlin addresses breakfast crowd at South Station

RUTLAND-A crowd of about 100 legislators, businesspeople and residents met at South Station last week to discuss current issues with Governor Peter Shumlin. Familiar talking points were touched upon with a few local issues addressed in the Governor's hour-long speach.

Jobs and economic growth in Rutland were a clear focus and Gov. Shumlin mentioned his transportation bill as an impetus. Investments at the Rutland airport and putting the "western rail" project on a faster trajectory were promised to help give the region a boost.

Gov. Shumlin said "it is absolutely critical that we drive the natural gas pipeline down the western side of the state and into Rutland. There are public hearings coming up, we'd love to hear all sides, so please show up and make your voice heard." He mentioned that Vermont is more dependent on oil than other states and improving natural gas delivery will help businesses as well as citizens save money and prosper. Right now, natural gas is about 40% cheaper than oil.

With regard to jobs, Vermont isn't doing bad, but we can do better, Gov. Shumlin said. Despite the tough recession, Vermont has the sixth lowest unemployment nationally and we have the fastest growth rate in the northeast. Vermont was the only state in the nation to see income grow in 2011.

The Governor asked "How do we continue that momentum?" and pointed to increased education and training as imperative to moving in the right direction and ensuring that Vermont's students are prepared to enter the workforce. As businesses grow and start hiring again, the state has to make sure that there are available workers from within the state. "We are an aging state and there is work to do," he said.

Shumlin outlined a plan to provide incentives for students to stay in Vermont; essentially allowing the state to pay for the final year of college if a student stays and works in Vermont for five years after they graduate. Plans to expand the dual enrollment scheme where high school students can earn college credits was also mentioned as was bolstering the technical college programs so that students can be prepared to enter the workforce early.

Gov. Shumlin also addressed elementary education, saying "In grade school, let's have an individual plan that links every student's abilities and aspirations with their educational experiences. Very early on, they're getting internships, apprenticeships and linking career with educational attainment and the amount of money you make when you join that particular profession."  Gov. Shumlin mentioned his proposed $17 million investment in early childhood education. "I say, if we are going to succeed in growing jobs and growing prosperity, we've got to have the best education system in America, and we have got to have everybody in," he said.

Welfare reform is also needed, said the Governor, reminding the audience that Vermont is the only state where welfare has no time limit. He said "welfare should be temporary, not timeless." He also railed against the idea that some welfare recipients choose not to work because they do better by staying home. "Change the system," was his response. "Fundamentally change the system so everyone can prosper," he said, the system should encourage employment.

Governor Shumlin took a few questions from the audience. One audience member mentioned a need for tax credits for training young workers in apprenticeships. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Thomas Donahue voiced his concern over the bill that would regulate labeling of genetically modified food, siting local businesses that use canola oil. Because canola oil derives from a hybrid seed, these businesses would be forced to drop "all natural" from their labels and include a disclaimer about genetically altered food.

Gov. Shumlin said that as is, the bill could do more harm than good and although he supports labeling, the bill needs some work.
The legislative breakfasts are regular events in Rutland and they are open to the public. They are hosted by the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce and the Rutland Economic Development Corporation. These are great opportunities to meet your local legislators, reservations are required.