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Gov. Scott answers your questions on affordable housing, clean heat and more

A photo of Phil Scott, in front of a gold frame, speaking into a microphone
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
This hour, Gov. Phil Scott answers questions on issues affecting Vermonters.

Vermont's legislators are working hard to move bills along this session. Their next stop is Gov. Phil Scott's desk. He joined Vermont Edition on Monday to discuss some of the major issues Vermonters face, from child care to clean heat to affordable housing.

Below are highlights of the live call-in discussion.

On the Affordable Heat Act

The governor has pledged to veto the Affordable Heat Act, which aims to reduce fossil fuel emissions from heating and cooling buildings.

The governor worries that the bill — which would kick off a process to require companies that import fossil fuels to help fund the transition to cleaner heating systems — would “punish” Vermonters who can’t afford to switch off of fossil fuels.

“There’s a better approach to doing this rather than punish people who can’t afford to do anything different than they’re doing today,” Scott said.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont lawmakers send Affordable Heat Act to Gov. Scott's desk

A new report from the state Agency of Natural Resources projects that Vermont is not on track to meet its legally-required emission reduction requirements for 2030 — unless it takes further policy action in the form of a sector-wide solution like the Affordable Heat Act’s clean heat standard.

But Scott pushed for a “measured” approach.

“From a practical standpoint, I don’t see where this works in a short period of time,” Scott said. “Now, If we do this in measured way, then it makes sense — over a period of years, and so forth.”

The governor also criticized the steps outlined in the Affordable Heat Act. The bill would ask the Public Utility Commission to study and set up rules that would require companies that import fossil fuels to help fund the transition to cleaner heating systems. Those proposed rules would return to the Legislature for final approval by 2025, but the governor said it should be a full legislative process rather than an up or down vote.

“I don’t think this is good government," Scott said. "I don’t think this is democracy in action. I think this is a terrible, terrible way to treat Vermonters.”

After the governor vetoes the bill, lawmakers will likely return in June for a veto override attempt. Currently, the word in the Statehouse is that both the House and Senate have the two-thirds majority they need for the veto override, said reporter Peter Hirschfeld.

Vermont's not the problem here.
Gov. Phil Scott on climate policy

On his overall approach to climate

Scott said his approach to climate is about “carrots versus sticks.” He pointed to the state’s investment of Volkswagen settlement money for charging infrastructure and federal pandemic relief money for weatherizing homes.

“I’m a believer in electrification, going to this different method, moving ourselves away from fossil fuels. I think it makes all kinds of sense. But not in a short period of time,” Scott said. “And I know there are some who say we can’t wait, but Vermont’s not the problem here. I mean, when you look at this across the globe, Vermont is such a small player and actually we aren’t contributing to the degree that any other state is. I would say we’re on the low end of the scale.”

Gov. Phil Scott stands near his 14 car at Thunder Road.
Wilson Ring
Associated Press File
Gov. Phil Scott stands near his 14 car at Thunder Road in 2017.

On climate change and driving a race car

One caller asked how Scott could claim he’s doing all he can to address climate change when he drives a race car at Thunder Road using fossil fuels.

Scott said he looks forward to the day when electric race cars are available.

“I’m not going to stop racing, and entertaining and so forth, until we have an alternative,” Scott said.

Hilltop Inn sign on the side of a road.
Emily Aiken

On the end of the emergency housing motel program

A caller raised concerns about the end of the expanded motel housing program that was set up in the early days of the pandemic and serves thousands of Vermonters. About 1,600 households currently living in motels will be forced to leave by July 1.

More from Vermont Public: Advocates brace for humanitarian crisis when over 2,000 Vermonters lose emergency housing

The governor said the model is unsustainable at about $18 million a month, and also not good for the individuals staying at motels because they don’t get wraparound services or safety oversight. He said his administration has worked to find people permanent housing and said more needs to be done to allow more housing construction.

“If this is truly the crisis that everyone says it is — which I believe it is — we need to pass some common sense regulatory changes, including the Act 250 and local zoning and so forth,” Scott said. “Without that, we’re not going to be able to take care of all this. But we can’t afford the $18 million a month that we have right now. “

More from Vermont Public: Act 250 becomes political flashpoint as lawmakers tackle housing shortage

On child care funding

The governor said he and the Senate have a common priority in expanding child care subsidies, with the Senate proposing a larger investment that would be funded by a payroll tax.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont Senate advances biggest child care funding increase in state history

Scott said his commitment to avoiding tax and fee increases seems to have paid off in budget surpluses: “Something is working,” he said. That growth, he suggested, could be used over time to expand the subsidies more gradually.

The governor declined to say whether he would sign or veto the Senate’s child care bill in its current form, saying he would look at it within the context of other tax and fee increases that may be proposed by the Legislature.

“I think we’re going to have to look at the aggregate before I make any decisions on what we do,” Scott said.

On efforts to ban steel-jawed legholds in animal trapping

The governor called for “balance” between traditions and what Vermonters want for the future, and said he has faith in the commissioner for Fish & Wildlife to participate in those policy discussions.

On the gun bill

The governor said he is willing to accept pieces of this year’s proposed gun legislation, but not the 72-hour waiting period for gun purchases.

Scott said he is “not 100% sold” on the idea that the waiting period would make a difference in suicides, and he believes it violates the Second Amendment.

More from Vermont Public: Vt. Senate advances 72-hour waiting period for gun purchases, safe storage requirements

But the governor seemed willing to accept safe storage requirements for guns and an expansion to Vermont’s extreme risk protection orders, also called red flag laws.

On trans youth in sports

Host Mikaela Lefrak asked the governor about a Republican-led proposal to ban trans girls from girls sports in Vermont, which he does not support.

The governor said there should be no changes in standards at the youth sport level.

“I think that we should just let kids be kids and let them enjoy their lives as they see fit,” Scott said.

More from Vermont Edition: How Vermont can be a safer place for trans youth

Broadcast live on Monday, May 1, 2023, at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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Corrected: May 1, 2023 at 4:39 PM EDT
A previous version of this article cited projections from an Agency of Natural Resources report about greenhouse gas emissions that has since been taken down pending further revision by the agency.
Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Andrea Laurion joined Vermont Public as a news producer for Vermont Edition in December 2022. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. Before getting into audio, Andrea worked as an obituary writer, a lunch lady, a wedding photographer assistant, a children’s birthday party hostess, a haunted house actor, and an admin assistant many times over.