EAST MIDDLEBURY — State Senate candidate Amy Sheldon believes additional health care reforms will not only create more fit Vermonters but will also provide a potent panacea for the economic ills the state is facing.
“Health care is a huge driver in the cost of public education and government services,” said Sheldon, an East Middlebury Democrat. “If we can find a way to make (health care) more affordable for all Vermonters, we will solve a number of problems.”
Sheldon, 44, is hoping to get enough write-in votes during next Tuesday’s Democratic primary to get her name on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. She is squaring off against incumbent state Sen. Harold Giard, D-Bridport, who is also waging a write-in campaign in his re-election bid.
Sheldon, 44, announced her candidacy last month for one of the two state Senate seats representing Addison County and Brandon. The natural resource planner and Middlebury Planning Commission member has been spending time talking to business owners, school officials and citizens to get a sense of how state government can improve their lives. She has heard a lot of concerns about businesses and households struggling to meet tax burdens — and health insurance premiums.
“For me, it’s pretty clear that reducing health care costs is the number one thing we can do in Montpelier to help Vermonters in an economic and a social way,” Sheldon said.
While Sheldon believes a single-payer system is probably the best way to reduce health care costs, she acknowledged an ongoing study coordinated by the Vermont Health Care Reform Commission that will develop at least three options to lower insurance premiums. Working with the committee is Dr. William Hsiao, a professor of economics at the Harvard University School of Public Health.
“I think it’s an exciting time to be going to Montpelier, because of the Hsiao report,” Sheldon said. “He is going to look at the numbers and put a single-payer option in legal context in Vermont, so we would know how it would work economically and in context with the current federal law.”
She said reducing health care costs will be critical in efforts to contain education property taxes and grow Vermont businesses.
“Health care is a huge driver in education costs,” Sheldon said, adding businesses are either struggling to keep up with health insurance premiums or simply can’t afford to offer such benefits to workers.
Sheldon called health care one of several “transition” issues with which the state will have to contend. Transportation, she said, is another matter that will require the state to transition to a new strategy.
“We have a transportation infrastructure built around fossil fuels, and we need to be transitioning away from fossil fuels and into other alternatives,” Sheldon said. “Most likely in the short-term that would mean rail. We need transportation that moves both people as well as goods.”
The emerging economy will increasingly call for more food, goods and services to be provided locally, according to Sheldon.
“I think we need to be promoting local foods for a number of reasons,” Sheldon said. “The more food we produce locally, the less it will have to travel. It will also support our local agriculture.”
Acknowledging Addison County’s agricultural economy, Sheldon said farmers must continue to diversify their products. An increasing number of area farmers are branching out into organic milk and produce, artisan cheeses, butter, yogurt and meats. She also hopes landowners will be given more incentive to grow biofuel crops.
“Farms that are surviving right now can’t just depend on milk for income,” Sheldon said.
Other issues discussed by Sheldon included:
• Shrinking school populations and education funding. Sheldon does not favor mandatory consolidation for school districts with dipping enrollment, but does favor offering incentives for communities that want to voluntarily merge their public education resources. She favors reducing the number of the state’s supervisory unions as a way of reducing bureaucracy and administrative expenses.
• Energy. If elected, Sheldon vowed to support green energy efforts. She does not support extending the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant’s contract beyond 2012.
• Business development. Sheldon advocates creating better conditions for Vermont businesses to grow, such as streamlining the permitting process.
• State budget. State officials anticipate a revenue shortfall of between $100 million to $120 million next fiscal year. Sheldon said she does not favor any tax increases, and would instead lean toward eliminating some more state government positions through attrition. She is open to tapping the state’s rainy day fund to save certain programs that might otherwise be on the chopping block.
Sheldon is hoping for a good turnout on primary day, Aug. 24. She, Giard and any other write-in candidate will need at least 50 votes (and a majority) in order to join incumbent Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Weybridge, on the Democrat ballot for the general election. Orwell Republicans Mark Young and Andrea Ochs have already secured spots on the Republican ballot.
“The campaign is going well,” Sheldon said. “I feel like I have gotten a lot of positive response.”
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.