The top grade in Cato’s governors report this year went to Republican Chris Sununu of New Hampshire. He is a solid fiscal conservative and was just re‐elected by a 65 to 33 percent margin, even though the state went to Joe Biden over Donald Trump 53 to 46. New Hampshire is a unique state in the region, with smaller government and more freedom than its neighbors.
Next door, Vermont seems quite different. It is the land of Bernie Sanders. It has higher taxes, larger government, and less freedom. Yet Vermont is headed by a Republican governor who favors restrained budgets, low taxes, and leans moderate or libertarian on social policy.
Phil Scott was just re‐elected governor of Vermont by an impressive 69 to 28 percent margin, even though the state went for Biden over Trump 66 to 31.
Scott came to the governor’s office after serving as a state senator and Vermont’s lieutenant governor. He is a former small business owner and an active race car driver.
The governor has battled the state’s Democratic legislature over tax and spending restraint, and he does not hesitate to veto big‐government bills. For example, Scott has vetoed property tax increases to fund schools, proposing instead to save money by cutting school bureaucracy. General fund spending rose at an annual average rate of just 2.4 percent between 2017 and 2020, and Scott has focused on trimming fat from state agencies.
In 2018, the governor signed a bill to conform to federal changes in the income tax base while cutting the state’s income tax rates across the board. That same year he signed a bill to legalize recreational marijuana possession and in 2020 he allowed a bill legalizing pot sales to become law without his signature.
Scott has defended the economy against the legislature’s proposals for carbon regulations and carbon taxes. He vetoed a costly regulatory scheme for climate change in 2020 but was overridden by the legislature.
Scott has opposed damaging minimum wage hikes. In vetoing a hike in 2020, he said, “Despite S.23’s good intentions, the reality is there are too many unintended consequences and we cannot grow the economy or make Vermont more affordable by arbitrarily forcing wage increases. I believe this legislation would end up hurting the very people it aims to help.” Unfortunately that veto was also overridden by the legislature.
Scott has vetoed bills to impose a costly paid‐leave scheme funded by a new wage tax. In a 2020 veto message, he said, “Vermonters have made it clear they don’t want, nor can they afford, new broad‐based taxes. We cannot continue to make the state less affordable for working Vermonters and more difficult for employers to employ them—even for well‐intentioned programs like this one.”
As a fiscal conservative in Vermont, Phil Scott is outnumbered and does not win every battle. But he is used to strong g‐forces on the race track, and as he battles strong g‐forces in the state capital, voters seem to have his back.
This article first appeared on the Cato Institute blog.