- Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2017

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - The former owner of a small construction company who spends some of his spare time as a stock car driver took the oath of office Thursday as Vermont’s new governor promising to make the state welcoming to businesses while continuing to fight for the state’s most vulnerable.

Republican Phil Scott took the oath before an adoring crowd in the Montpelier Statehouse. State lawmakers, previous governors, and others were in the audience.

“I heard your call for balance, common sense, and a centrist governing philosophy,” Scott, 58, said during his inaugural address. “A government that sets clear and achievable goals. One that is honest about the scope of the challenge and is not afraid to face it head on. One that puts working families like yours first, and is willing to do things differently, to produce better results for you.”

He said Vermont has been challenged by the loss of young people. The population segment of 25- to 45-year-olds decreased by 30,000 between 2000 and 2010; and the state has lost 16,000 workers since 2010.

Scott promised to change the way state government works. He said one of his first actions will be an executive order directing every state agency and department to focus on strengthening the economy, making Vermont living more affordable and protecting the most vulnerable. He said he would establish a Government Modernization and Efficiency Team, “which will lead this charge toward a more effective and productive state government.”

Scott will be working with a Vermont Legislature in which both chambers are controlled by Democrats.

Shortly after Scott’s inauguration, the state Democratic Party released a letter to him saying his administration must respect labor unions and Democrats will “push back” against policies that could cause Vermonters to lose health insurance coverage. The Democrats also said they will continue to push for renewable energy options, an issue Scott did not address in his address.

Scott said schools are key to economic opportunity and the state must rethink its entire education system. He said Vermont spends about $19,000 a year on each student in kindergarten through high school, among the highest figures in the country, but Vermont is not an education destination for young families.

“If we want a system that draws people to Vermont, we can’t be paralyzed by fear of change,” he said.

He also promised to continue the fight against opiate addiction, help train workers for existing jobs and make housing more affordable so Vermont will be more attractive to young families.

“I also understand, there will be difficult times ahead,” Scott said as he ended his speech. “I know we’re not always going to agree, and even when we do, change may not always come as fast as we’d hope. But we must always treat others the way we want to be treated. It’s a rule I’ve followed in life, politics, business and racing.”

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