MONTPELIER, Vt. — Since he took office last year, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has been warning of the challenges posed by the state’s aging population.
In his Jan. 4 State of the State speech, the Republican continued his call for measures he feels will make Vermont more economically attractive so young people will stay and others might move here.
He’s pushing for more housing and he suggested a new enticement: tuition-free college for Vermont National Guard members. He’s also promising outreach to persuade working-age people to move to Vermont.
“We can come together, and focus our efforts on growing our working-age population,” Scott said in his speech. “If we do this, we can expand our tax base. We can put kids back in our schools, help our businesses innovate and grow and we can protect – and make more of the public investments in the areas we value.”
University of Vermont economist Art Woolf, who has studied Vermont’s demographic challenge for years, says the state’s population is flat or slightly shrinking following growth from the 1960s to the 1990s.
“After the 2000, census it was clear something had changed,” Woolf said.
Vermont U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat, who moved to the state in 1974 shortly after graduating from law school, was one of the young people attracted to Vermont by its proximity to western Massachusetts where he grew up.
He says the declining economic base in the state and other expenses now makes the choice he made that much more difficult for others.
“It’s not like a lifestyle choice as much as it is a practical reality of what can you do and where can you do it,” Welch said. “I think the governor is focusing on a very real problem.”
Scott, speaking Thursday at the Statehouse, said he must succeed where his predecessors have failed.
“We’re going to have to be different because, obviously, whatever happened before isn’t working,” Scott said.