Governor Scott evaluates progress so far

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MONTPELIER — Vermont's first-term Republican Gov. Phil Scott gives himself good marks after his first 100 days in office. But even Scott, who spent six years as lieutenant governor and a decade as a lawmaker before that, admits the job has proven difficult.

"Everything is harder than I thought," Scott said at a news conference on Tuesday, his 104th day in office.

With Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, Scott is the first Vermont governor to face a legislature controlled by political opponents since Republican Gov. Jim Douglas in 2010. Scott's predecessor, Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, enjoyed majorities of his own party for all of his six years in office.

Two of Scott's executive orders to combine similar state departments were denied in the legislature, and the state budget passed by the House does not include many of Scott's priorities on education and economic development spending.

He proposed moving $7.5 million to a child care subsidy program, closing a state prison, increasing scholarship funds for National Guard members and using $750,000 for a Vermont marketing campaign, all of which House budget makers denied.

Democrats say a major knock against Scott is poor communication and slow action when it comes to detailing plans for his administration. Those shortcomings led to lawmakers denying the two of Scott's executive orders, they said

Rep. Jill Krowinski, the Democratic majority leader in the House, said Scott's plan to merge Vermont's Liquor Control and Lottery departments was denied by lawmakers because Scott didn't give them enough time to consider the proposal.

"What's incredibly important is that they be able to put their plans in place early so we can work together to vet them," Krowinski said Tuesday of Scott's administration.

Lawmakers also rejected an executive order that would have merged the Commerce and Community Development Department and the Department of Labor into a division called the Agency of Economic Opportunity.

Vermont's Democratic House Speaker, Mitzi Johnson, largely echoed Krowinski.

"He's taking time to settle into the office. It's a new role for him, having served for so long in the Senate in the minority party," Johnson said. She criticized Scott for taking his time filling key posts in his administration, such as commissioner for Fish and Wildlife.

But Johnson also said Scott has been a solid collaborator on key issues. The House recently passed a state budget on a 143-1 vote that doesn't rely on new taxes or fees, a requirement for Scott if he was to sign any bill.

"Being able to pass a budget on a damn-near unanimous vote that doesn't rely on $60 million in property taxes is enormous," Johnson said.

Both Republican minority leaders, Rep. Don Turner and Sen. Dustin Degree, also pointed to the budget as a major success for Scott.

"That is something that hasn't happened in this state in over a decade. It's what he was elected on and he is holding true to that promise," Degree said.

Scott has largely agreed with Vermont Democrats when it comes to pushing back against President Donald Trump's politics and policies. Scott recently signed a law that would limit personal data collection by Vermont police, out of concerns it could be used in a federal registry.

It also grants Vermont's governor sole authority to enter into agreements that would deputize Vermont's police forces to perform the duties of federal immigration agents.

The bill was designed alongside Democratic, Republican and progressive lawmakers and sailed through both the House and the Senate.

Where Scott ran into trouble with the bill was in the House Republican caucus, where some lawmakers thought the bill went too far and turned Vermont into a sanctuary state, putting its federal funding at risk.

"That raised concerns with many of our members," said Turner. "Many of them felt it sent the wrong message."

Turner, who voted against the bill, said despite the disagreements Scott was open to hearing concerns.

"It's in the past. He was understanding and accepting," Turner said.

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