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Vermont’s governor focuses on rural infrastructure aid 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 that a $3 million rural infrastructure assistance program be included in a budget adjustment bill. The Republican says the funds will 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 provided last year. Because many of these towns have small committees with part-time officials, they often rely on community volunteers to make decisions priority projects, submit applications, and if successful, try to manage them with all the reporting that goes with them, they’re simply not equipped to handle them like Burlington, Rutland or Montpelier are, who have full-time employees who typically apply about and administers the grant funding.”

The agency’s deputy secretary Douglas Farnham said the rural infrastructure support program has been proposed in the budget adjustment because there is a “high degree of urgency” and they cannot wait for the general budget proposal to be passed at the end of the session.

“We only have until the end of next year to commit the full $1.05 billion of the ARPA state fiscal recovery. And at this point, we estimate that over $400 million of that one billion is already committed. So all of these programs that were approved over the last two years, they’re on the run, they’re moving forward. And we want to make sure that small towns have the greatest opportunity to participate in these programs.”

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

“We know from our conversations in several counties now that the barriers to participation are high for these cities. They need it to be easy. The types of programs that would be eligible: water quality infrastructure, housing development, community recovery, development of workforce and business support, climate change mitigation. Not all projects will fit perfectly into those boxes.”

Governor Scott was asked a series of questions about activity in the Legislature. The House Judiciary Committee will hold testimony Wednesday and Thursday on H.89, a bill to protect abortion providers and patients from out-of-state lawsuits. Scott said he is not familiar with the details but supports the concept.

“We want to protect anyone who provides a service here in Vermont. But I don’t know what that law is going to entail. I mean, I have no real problem with it.”

Scott also expressed support for legalizing sports betting this session.

“We’ve been studying it for a while. Like the use of cannabis, it’s something that’s been used for a while. The reality is that most of the states around us are doing something, and we just have to find a way forward , so we can provide the necessary protection to make it viable.”

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