The Vermont State House, located in Montpelier, Vt.

Feb 16 2021

Vermont Governor Wants to Make IT Modernization a Permanent Function

Phil Scott wants the state to set up an ongoing technology modernization funding mechanism, but it’s unclear how it would be supported.

Often in state government, technology upgrades don’t happen unless there is a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic or a system gets overwhelmed and crashes — or worse, is hacked. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott want to change that in the Green Mountain State.

Last month, Scott proposed as part of his budget for the 2022 fiscal year the creation of a permanent fund to support ongoing technology modernization of state IT infrastructure. Scott proposed that the state spend $53 million in the next fiscal year as a one-time investment in overdue modernization projects.

“This isn’t ongoing revenue, meaning it won’t be here next year, so we need to be smart about how it’s spent,” he said in his budget address, adding later, “Beyond roads and bridges, we can also address important needs like broadband weatherization, and major IT and cybersecurity work that will better serve Vermonters.”

While lauded by state leaders who work on IT, it remains unclear how the proposed fund would be supported beyond the next fiscal year, if the legislature approves the idea.

What Are Vermont’s Plans for Technology Modernization?

If the legislature approves Scott’s proposal, Vermont CIO John Quinn tells StateScoop, he already knows of 12 major projects the money could fund. The publication reports these include “a replacement of the state’s human capital management system, upgrades to grant management and environmental permitting systems, case management programs used by prosecutors and sheriffs and determining eligibility for Medicaid and other social programs.”

Under the proposed fund, it would be the first time those projects would be grouped together “where all of our IT needs as government are living in one place,” Secretary of Administration Susanne Young tells the news site VTDigger. “It’ll be the first time this has really happened in budgeting for IT in the state. Now, we’re taking it one step further, putting all of those projects in one budget.”

Vermont could use the funding to start modernizing its unemployment system and to create new infrastructure for the Department of Motor Vehicles, both of which run on 40-year-old mainframes, Quinn tells StateScoop.

“The governor’s been very good taking the time to understand our cybersecurity posture as well as our modernization needs,” he says. “The legislature understands the need for the modernization fund.”

The state is likely hoping that the fund gets replenished somehow via a funding mechanism in the legislature. The DMV project would have $15 million dedicated to it but is expected to cost $45 to 50 million overall, according to reports.

“No one wants this to be a one-time deal,” Quinn adds. “The governor proposed $53 million of one-time money because we had a once-in-a-lifetime revenue growth from our pandemic forecast. He wanted to use this for not one-time things.”

There is currently no specific plan for how these projects would get funded in future years. “There are ideas on the table in that regard, but no clear plan yet,” Young tells VTDigger. “We are going to have to find a way to better prioritize and fund these projects over the next couple of years.”

While the $53 million would be a one-time investment, Quinn tells VTDigger the fund would make it easier for the state to identify funding for projects in the future.

MORE FROM STATETECH: How is the pandemic reshaping government IT plans?

How Other Governors Are Thinking About IT in 2021 and Beyond

As Governing points out, many governors have used their State of the State addresses to call for investments in expanding broadband infrastructure and access. Some have also called for specific technology investments beyond that.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly called for $37.5 million in the coming budget “to update old IT systems that have been neglected for decades.”

As Governing reports, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak noted that he “wants to create ‘innovation zones’ to attract emerging technology companies to develop their products in Nevada.”

In Delaware, Gov. John Carney noted that “governments at all levels made it possible for public meetings, hearings and proceedings to be conducted virtually during the pandemic.”

The use of technology in these areas has, in many cases, “made conducting the public’s business more accessible, more transparent, and more efficient,” he said.

“We should all want more people to participate in our democracy — not fewer. So, we should work together to make these practices permanent even after the pandemic.”

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