Candidates Q & A
Candidates Q&A 2006
The following six questions, along with a requested word limit, were asked of each local candidate for the Vermont House.
The questions are not repeated in the context of each candidate’s response, but are recalled by subject at the beginning of each answer.
Election Day is Nov. 7.
1) HEALTHCARE: Are you satisfied with the state’s Catamount Health plan? If not, what additional steps should the state take to expand health care coverage. (Maximum 150 words.)
2) ELECTRICITY: Vermont’s contracts with Hydro-Quebec and Vermont Yankee expire during the next decade. What should Vermont do to meet its energy needs? (150 words.)
3) AGRICULTURE: What are you willing to do at the state level to support family farms? Please specify what supports and policies you would promote as a legislator. (150 words.)
4) PROPERTY TAXES: The idea of a property tax cap to limit the rise in school spending has been suggested, but such reductions in funds could diminish the quality of education in our schools over time. How do you solve that dilemma? (150 words.)
5) YOUNG VERMONTERS: What can be done to keep young Vermonters (post high school) from leaving the state, and specifically suggest how the state can attract jobs that pay a livable wage? (150 words.)
6) SINGLE ISSUE: Discuss an issue of importance to you that you would work to address if elected. (100 words.)
Click on the candidates name below to read their responses.
The four candidates running for the two seats in the Addison-4 district — which includes the towns of Bristol, Monkton, Lincoln and Starksboro — are Michael Fisher, Nathan Fitzgerald, Barbara Rainville and David Sharpe.
Steve Jackson and Will Stevens are the candidates for the seat in the Addison-Rutland-1 district, which includes Orwell, Shoreham, Whiting and Benson.
Joe Acinapura and Mitchell Pearl are running for running in the Rutland-7 district, which encompasses Brandon.
The five candidates running for the two seats in the Addison-3 House district — which includes Vergennes, Addison, Panton, Waltham and Ferrisburgh — are Greg Clark, April Jin, Diane Lanpher, Liz Markowski and Kitty Oxholm.
Chris Bray and Harvey Smith are the candidates for the Addison-5 House seat, which covers Bridport, New Haven and Weybridge.
Responses from April Jin
HEALTH CARE: The Catamount Health Plan is a very timid attempt to tweak the system. It does nothing to address the increases in school and municipal budgets that are being driven by rising health care premiums. Telling people to have to wait a year without insurance before becoming eligible is not encouraging responsibility. Vermont needs to self-insure as a state so that everyone is covered for all health services (preventive and curative) Insurance should not be tied to employment — other developed countries don’t do this. Public health should be a priority with healthcare being a right not a privilege. Allowing people to buy coverage from out of state and encouraging a more competitive market solves nothing. Insurance companies like Kaiser Permanente left Vermont because they couldn’t make enough money,and other companies left because of mandated coverage. Insurance companies’ goal is to make money — not to take care of us. It is the companies who decide what healthcare we will receive not physicians. If we had one plan we could more readily negotiate the prices of prescription drugs.
We can do better in Vermont than the weak Catamount plan.
ELECTRICITY: Vermont needs to have a formal energy plan including alternative sources of electricity such as wind power. People complain about wind turbines ruining our scenic views. Many of these scenic areas are already altered by ski runs. We could put some turbines in these areas Vermont needs to allocate seed money and tax credits to businesses that use sustainable energy. Burning of pellets for fuel should be seriously considered. Burlington wood chips are used. In Vergennes we have some use of water power in Otter Creek although the Feds limited it in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license. The state has had the opportunity to purchase dams for water power. Solar power should be encouraged when new structures are built.
The VELCO (Vermont Electric Power Co.) project keeps growing in costs, and I am not convinced that Vermont’s electricity needs are driving these high voltage lines. The need to get the power downstate to the metropolitan areas is the more likely the driving factor. Many communities fought VELCO and were able to win some concessions, but the governor favored VELCO.
AGRICULTURE: We need to change the agricultural infrastructure to save family farms. Why should farmers have to pay hauling and stoppage fees when it is the processor that determines the market price of milk. We should be marketing “Vermont” milk as a premium product commanding higher prices from facilities here at first subsidized by the state. State money is spent marketing tourism, why not dairy products? At the agricultural symposium held recently in Middlebury ideas were presented about growing crops to make fuel pellets or to produce biodiesel. The federal government encourages big farms along with big business. Most of Vermont farms are small family farms. Just throwing relief money at them during times of crisis is not a sustainable solution.
PROPERTY TAX CAP: A property tax cap to limit the rise in school spending is not realistic. Having worked for years on the VUHS and Hannaford Tech Center budgets, I assure you that we often level fund on supplies and facilities. The largest part of the budgets is salary and benefits. Is the governor suggesting that the NEA agree not to negotiate for raises above his inflation cap? I don’t think we can tell Blue Cross/Blue Shield what their percentage increase is going to be. Do school budgets usually pass by a 60 percent vote? I think not. We need to deal with how education is funded. Some suggestions: an increase in rooms tax and a higher sales tax percentage for luxury goods such as jewelry, cars costing over $35,000, an entertainment tax on movies and theater, videos, CDs, a higher tax on second homes — they are a luxury.
YOUNG VERMONTERS: I am not sure that we need to focus on young Vermonters leaving the state. Young people should be encouraged to experience different environments and to broaden their horizons. There are many young people moving into the state. If you live here — you are a Vermonter. Increasing funding for technical education would better ensure that young people have the skills businesses are looking for. Let’s make a semester of technical education a requirement for a high school diploma.
Rather than attracting jobs that pay a livable wage from out of state, let’s encourage the growth and start up of small businesses within Vermont by tax incentives and low-interest loans instead of tax credits for large companies like IBM or Husky. Even the ads on television tell us that young people are leaving New York because of a lack of well paying jobs. This problem is not unique to Vermont.
SINGLE ISSUE: The No Child Left Behind law is a great title for the federal government intruding on education — constitutionally a state issue. Another mandate without funding. These tests are eroding away local control. Tests are given in October but no results until May with no time to work on improving the students’ performances. Schools are set up to fail the standard, as scores of special need children are counted into the averages. Even a few low scores can make the school fail. A bureaucratic system of oversight steps in. Refusal to administer the testing means loss of Title Reading funding. Under performing schools are threatened with sanctions that never happen. The media publishes lists of failing schools, which creates ire among taxpayers. Assessment tests used in the past measured progress. If confidence is destroyed in public education, vouchers will appear to be a logical alternative. A cornerstone of our democracy is free public school for everyone. We must fight this on the legislative level.
Responses from Barb Rainville
HEALTH CARE: I am not satisfied with the Green Mountain Health plan. While it does work to cover uninsured Vermonters, it does nothing to actually make health care affordable for all Vermonters. The most logical step the state can take is to allow Vermonters to purchase health care from providers outside of the state. Vermonters can buy car insurance from a green lizard now why not have a similar system for health insurance. Vermonters would be placed in “pools” and I don’t think that is a bad idea. Vermonters should be rewarded for making good health decisions.
ELECTRICITY: There are several things that Vermont can do to meet our energy needs. Obviously, renegotiating contracts is a starting point. The energy costs will be higher than what we have enjoyed over the years but we do need to have a base system that meets needs while we explore and expand alternatives. Solar, wind, cow-power, thermal, and conservation will serve us well. While I was in Ireland recently, two things struck me as very do-able for the state of Vermont. 1) Wind power that isn’t located on ridgelines. I saw several windmill farms that were located on open “trash” land. Yes they were tall towers but no one on the tour (all Americans) said they thought the towers were a hideous scar on the landscape. You know what they are and you understand what their purpose is. (I don’t think telephone poles or even ski lifts are terribly picturesque but I know and understand what they are.) 2) Conservation — technology is getting better and better and we aren’t taking advantage of it.
AGRICULTURE: Family farms are businesses and as a legislator, I feel it is important to treat them like businesses. I would support programs that would research alternative crops and give the farmers a place to sell/process the alternative crops. Canola is a crop that can be grown here in Vermont — not just for bio-diesel but also for the cooking oil that it can produce. Some regions of the county will even be able to grow two crops of canola in our very short growing season. I would also support/encourage farmers to form more “co-ops.” A group of farmers can negotiate their needs far better than one, just like other business groups. This opens the door for the opportunity for grants, economic support, and a stronger buying power overall.
PROPERTY TAX: I don’t believe a cap on property taxes would diminish the quality of education in our schools. In fact, I think it would improve it by creating a system of true accountability and decision making among the school staff and school boards. Faced with a limited budget, it will be up to the school staff to make decisions about what is truly necessary to educate our children. Less money often forces a more creative solution to problems. Maybe it would allow schools to work with each other across the district or state, or rely on the expertise of the community to support programs. Also, with school enrollment dropping across the state, schools will need less money to cover salaries.
YOUNG VERMONTERS: Several approaches can be taken to keep young Vermonters here. 1) offering scholarship programs to students that go to Vermont schools. This type of program not only helps our students get to college if they so choose but it helps them to stay here without the heavy burden of student loans after college. 2) capping property taxes. 3) Keeping in check other major expenses like health care will help young, as well as older Vermonters stay in the state. The best way to attract businesses to the state 1) is to have reliable technology — statewide cell service and high speed internet so businesses of all types can be connected and grow beyond the state’s borders; 2) keeping taxes in check — including payroll taxes, workman’s comp., and property taxes are all factors in the cost of doing business. Businesses take these issues into consideration before deciding where to move; 3) providing an educated work force for the types of jobs that are out there. This would mean that businesses would work closely with our technical centers and colleges to produce skilled professionals in areas that need workers.
SINGLE ISSUE: The biggest issue for me if elected would be to take in all sides and not disregard a good idea because it doesn’t come from a fellow Republican. We need to stop the bickering and fighting and truly work for what’s right for the people of Addison County and Vermont.
Responses from Chris Bray
HEALTH CARE: Full, affordable health care is not a luxury; it is cost-effective, and the sign of a decent, compassionate, and truly healthy society.
Vermonters are facing a crisis: an estimated 63,000 Vermonters have no health insurance, and another 94,000 have high-deductible “medical catastrophe insurance.”
In 2006, the Legislature passed the Health Care Affordability Act, which includes Catamount Health.
Catamount Health will offer lower-income Vermonters an opportunity to buy health insurance according to a sliding scale. Individuals with annual incomes up to $29,400, and families with incomes up to $60,000 will have the option of enrolling.
Catamount, like Dr. Dynasaur, is an attempt to ensure that affordable, cost-effective health care is available to all Vermonters. It is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. In the coming years, we need to monitor its costs and performance, learn from experience, and continue to develop this program and other programs to offer more comprehensive coverage.
The greatest failure of all would lie in not acting, as this leaves all Vermonters in medical and economic jeopardy.
ELECTRICITY: There are three keys to developing a cost-effective, environmentally responsible energy future for Vermont and the region:
1. reduce energy demand through conservation;
2. develop in-state sources of energy, including wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, as well as green fuels (such as biomethane, bioethanol, biodiesel) and renewable solid fuels such as wood and grasses;
3. explore long-term regional solutions to our power needs, including discussions with HydroQuebec to develop a mutually beneficial alliance to secure clean, reliable electricity for the next 20-50 years.
Vermont has already had some success in all these areas, such as our award-winning VEIC/Efficiency Vermont, NRG in Hinesburg, Northern Power in Waitsfield, and Cow Power in Bridport. We can do more if the state provides visionary leadership.
The state should create a cabinet-level “Commissioner of Sustainable Development,” who would coordinate and develop the state’s scattered activities to make Vermont — in a decade — the nation’s per-capita leader in the use of sustainable energy as well as in the creation of sustainable energy technologies. We will become more responsible stewards of our environment while we develop new business opportunities across agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism.
AGRICULTURE: Vermont agriculture is in a period of tremendous change.
All Vermonters count on successful agriculture — for jobs that generate local wages and spending, and for its maintenance of a beautiful working landscape that nourishes us all and supports tourism.
The following strategies will support existing agricultural while helping it diversify and develop:
1. Price supports to get dairies through this winter, and a coordinated effort by the Governor, Legislature, and Vermont’s Congressional delegation to secure immediate federal price supports and a Regional Dairy Compact.
2. Initiatives to enhance local agricultural production — such as food cooperatives, community-supported agriculture, and farmer’s markets.
3. Initiatives to diversify agriculture through technical assistance and consulting and to attract and train new farmers in growing areas such as organic dairying, cheese making, and produce.
4. The creation of a blue-ribbon panel to look into the next 20-50 years for Vermont agriculture. What can Vermont’s climate, soils and workforce grow best? What new markets are developing? This panel should identify the major opportunities, and the state should facilitate growth in these areas.
Vermont has a great agricultural future — one that will be different from the last half-century. We must embrace the change and use it to our advantage.
PROPERTY TAXES: The state-imposed property tax cap is a poor solution to a real problem: education costs are rising faster than our incomes. The cap is like a doctor telling a patient to stop being sick rather than curing the underlying problem.
The problems driving up school costs include:
• energy costs (heating oil and bussing costs/diesel)
• employee benefit costs, especially health care
• unfunded Federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind and Special Education
Some steps we can consider to address these problems:
1. Consolidating purchasing
2. Solving the state’s health care cost crisis
3. Creating a coordinated effort by the governor, the Legislature, and Vermont’s Congressional delegation to require the federal government to fully fund its education mandates
4. Reorganizing schools and administrative offices
We also need to remember that a good education is also an excellent, cost-effective investment: children who succeed in school are more likely to have success throughout life. Vermont’s future will one day be in the hands of today’s students.
YOUNG VERMONTERS: Young people in Vermont are looking for good jobs with a livable wage and an attractive and healthy community in all its many aspects:
• affordable housing
• social and recreational opportunities
• ongoing adult education
• affordable, quality child care and good schools for their children
• accessible and affordable health care
All of these factors can be influenced by the state, particularly child care, education, and affordable health care. By creating a stable and highly trained work force, Vermont can attract employers offering higher-paying jobs, and these jobs enable us to support our communities and retain our youth.
SINGLE ISSUE: Our climate is changing. The extent and reasons may be under debate, but not the change. Vermont should take steps to prepare itself for a future in which our ability to provide more of our own food and energy will be a great asset to us.
Monument Farms Dairy is a great example of local production, distribution, and consumption. Vermont needs a coordinated campaign to encourage local consumption, not just for food, but for all local products and services. Spending locally strengthens the Vermont economy, reduces transportation costs, and decreases greenhouse gas emissions.
I will work in Montpelier to coordinate localization efforts and combine them with existing state programs to reduce global warming and strengthen our economy. We can look back to our own past capacity to provide for ourselves and use this ability to go forward and create the future we want.
Responses from Greg Clark
HEALTH CARE: The Catamount Health Care legislation passed last year was a positive step toward insuring all Vermonters. The toughest part, financing it, is still left to be done. I will: 1. support the right of Vermonters to purchase health insurance policies from other states. 2. encourage and allow Vermonters to set up tax-free health care savings accounts 3. allow our current Vermont providers to offer low cost insurance options in Vermont for catastrophic illness. 4. subsidize those who cannot afford insurance or coverage so that basic health needs are met. 5. promote prevention through health and wellness programs.
ELECTRICITY: Vermonters want and deserve reliable and dependable energy sources. The negotiations with Hydro-Quebec and Vermont Yankee should continue as we look to develop other renewable sources of energy. Any potential renewable and alternative sources of energy should be up for discussion as long as they are environmentally safe and reliable. Our Vermont goal should be to rely less on foreign oil and rely more on conservation. I’ll look to Efficiency Vermont and other experts to guide me through the possibilities.
AGRICULTURE: Vermont farmers have had a tough time making a living. This year’s weather was brutal and milk prices continue to be unstable. I supported the emergency income grant program of $8.5 million and will support providing the same amount on a continued basic. The Farm Viability Program which provides assistance to any farmer on request, currently has a $350,000 price tag. I would support raising the amount to $500,000. I will support policy and/or legislation that encourages farmers to diversify into other products such as bio-fuels, beef and vegetable production. Encouraging organic farming is also good policy. Helping farmers to stay productive is a top priority because their values are the soul of Vermont.
PROPERTY TAX CAP: The No. 1 issue on my campaign trail was property taxes as it relates to school funding. As a legislator, I’m seeking a balance between taxes and quality education. Government and public education doesn’t need to be starved in order to achieve success, but as with other issues, everything needs to be on the table. Legislators, school officials and the public need to consider costs as well as curriculum. The method of financing is complicated, as we learned at the public forum on education I hosted in September, but complicated doesn’t mean impossible to change. I will support other methods of financing because property taxes are out of balance with many Vermonters’ ability to pay. I will support an easing of education mandates that have an effect on the cost of education, and I will support continuing pressure on the Feds. to back off their mandates and fund the programs that are important. We all have a seat at the education table. We made a commitment to educating kids 200 years ago. The responsibility lies with all of us to decide what we want our educational system to be in the 21st century.
YOUNG VERMONTERS: Keeping young folks in Vermont and encouraging others to come to Vermont is a top priority. I supported the Vermont Promise Scholarship Program and will continue to support it. The governor showed strong leadership in proposing it. Why it was considered “DOA” in the Vermont Senate defies explanation. This is a proposal that allows students to get a 50 percent reduction in their Vermont college tuition if they stay in Vermont for three years after they graduate. As the costs increase for higher education, this becomes a real bargain for Vermont families. The real task is to make sure that Vermont has a business environment that allows these qualified Vermonters to work after they graduate. The Vermont Legislature will have to work in a bipartisan way to ensure that Vermont is a business friendly place to be. We can promote a good business climate by showing some common sense in our tax and building expansion policies. We do not have to compromise our environmental policies, nor should we, to have good, clean businesses and industries in Vermont. We continue to have a strong work force and a quality life in Vermont second to none, and we need to make sure that are children have the option to stay in Vermont and raise their children in Vermont.
SINGLE ISSUE: There will be any number of issues I’ll work on in the next legislative session. If I continue to be on the House Education Committee my focus will be on education, but last year I worked with a bipartisan group on the Farm-to-School bill and I intend to continue to focus on it. This bill encouraged local producers and school meal providers to begin a dialogue between each other concerning the use of local fruits, vegetables and other locally grown food stuffs in our schools. The Legislature, in this bill, mandated nothing but instead encouraged cooperation between two groups who can help each other. Even with all the concerns over the federal government commodities program, some Vermont school food providers are making a difference with school kids. We have a concern over childhood obesity and other potential health care issues, and this program at least looks to help focus on one aspect of health. Diet and exercise are important for all of us and the Farm-to-School program provides healthy options for kids. As they become more educated on the importance of healthy living, this program will be leading the way in improving their eating options. I hope to continue the funding and further develop curriculum around this program.
Responses from Harvey Smith
HEALTH CARE: I am very concerned about the substantial tax increases that will be required to fund this program. It is not clear that there will be enough savings to offset these increased costs. Quality of care in Vermont is not the problem, it is the cost of health insurance. About 50 percent of the currently uninsured qualify for Medicaid but have chosen not to participate in the program. Many of the remaining 50 percent uninsured are under the age of 45 and have made an economic decision not to have insurance. Vermont’s health insurance premium costs are 10-50 percent higher than in states that have fewer mandates. More cost effective premiums would go a long way to reduce the number of uninsured. One common sense solution would be to allow Vermonters to purchase health insurance out of state. This could reduce our health insurance costs by 30 percent to 50 percent without increasing any taxes.
ELECTRICITY: Hydro-Quebec and Vermont Yankee are clean and reliable sources of energy. I want to ensure that they remain viable in our state along with other renewable energy production. Safety and the regulatory process will determine the license renewal of Vermont Yankee. I will continue to promote conservation and efficiency as well as working to expand the 25×25 project (produce 25 percent of our nation’s energy needs from safe farm and forest based fuels by the year 2025) by using cost effective alternatives, like methane digesters on farms. By increasing our use of farm and forest based renewable fuels we have a win-win situation. We can produce clean safe energy though agricultural/forestry economic development, creating good jobs, keeping our lands open and productive while we strengthen our family farms. I will work to ensure that we have a consistent supply of safe and affordable energy for our Vermont residences and businesses.
AGRICULTURE: The House Agriculture Committee held daytime hearings around the state this past biennium, although that kept me from some votes in the House, it was important to get out into the community working face to face with the farmers. As a result I will work to renew the emergency income loss program. I would add to the program a management specialist to help those farmers who just need to tweak their practices to become more financially stable. I would like the state to work with more farmers to take advantage of the doubling of USDA’s grant program for renewable energy. Vermont got $1.6 million of these dollars this year and we need to be sure that our farmers take advantage of this program next year. The state needs to add agriculture to the state standards in education. The current standards are inadequate and Vermont’s children are graduating high school with no real understanding of agriculture or the future it offers them.
PROPERTY TAX CAP: The number one concern I hear from constituents is the property tax burden. Act 60 and Act 68 were the solution which created a greater problem. We are hearing solutions all over the board from shifting the property tax to other taxes to caps on local school spending. What’s wrong with controlling costs? Our student population has decreased and our property values have increased substantially increasing our tax burden. . Our focus needs to switch from spending and become more focused on results. In today’s dollars we are investing over $150,000 in every child that goes from kindergarten to graduation. We have some of the finest teachers in America, let’s free them up and let them do the job they are capable of doing.
YOUNG VERMONTERS: Our current business environment, other than quality labor force, is substandard using many benchmarks compared to most other states in our nation. That needs to change if we are to attract more businesses. Energy costs, permitting and worker compensation are all hindrances to luring new businesses to Vermont. What we have done right is to educate our children well. We must continue this tradition by making higher education more affordable. If we can address the energy costs, the permitting process and the workers comp issues as well as building on our success with education we will be able to attract high paying jobs giving young Vermonters a real opportunity to make a decent living, a reason to stay in Vermont.
SINGLE ISSUE: I will work to make Vermont more affordable. We must reduce the cost of living in Vermont so that young people with families can pay their bill, own a house, maintain good health, have a multitude of job opportunities, and save for the future. This will occur when we improve the business environment and give our young people the incentive and opportunity to build the work skills that are so important to their future well-being.
Responses from Joe Acinapura
HEALTH CARE: It is a step in the correct direction. I like the approach about wellness, immunizations and addressing chronic diseases. I support the idea of people who lead a healthy life style being able to receive a health insurance discount on their premiums. Much remains to be done. We must permit people to have more options with respect to the type of insurance they purchase and I will argue for the ability of people being able to go out of state to buy more reasonably priced health insurance. I want to revisit:(1) employer assessments, (2) capping of enrollments, (3) the 12-month waiting period and (4) permitting underinsured to buy into the program.
ELECTRICITY: We must explore alternative renewable energy sources now such that we will have sufficient power in the years beyond 2012. I fully support wind, water, solar and biofuel as probable sources. We must also emphasize requiring the sale of energy efficient appliances and conservation. However, these efforts alone will not provide for our energy needs in the immediate years beyond 2012. Therefore, we must explore extending both contracts and we are working towards those ends. Hydro-Quebec and Vermont Yankee provide 34 percent and 36 percent, respectively, of our daily electricity needs. I consider Hydro-Quebec a renewable energy source. Furthermore, in legislation passed this year, the Legislature is now responsible for any extension of the Vermont Yankee contract beyond 2012. Therefore, there will be comprehensive general public hearings before any extension of the Vermont Yankee contract.
AGRICULTURE: I would push to ensure our Vermont Seal of Quality applies only to products produced, processed and packaged in Vermont. I will work with the administration to seek out-of-state and overseas markets for these agricultural products. I will explore what can be done to address the decreasing number of slaughterhouses. I will seek sources of funding to enable farmers to comply with accepted practices, including storm water runoff.
I want to continue the Ag Agency/Northeast Farmer’s Assn. (AA/NOFA) program to enable more dairy farmers to change to organic production. I support energy efforts to convert manure to methane. I will seek through research funding how best to control pests. I support full funding of the current use program.
PROPERTY TAXES: As the value of property continues to rise, the flow of dollars into the Education Fund also rises. This increase in revenues above the inflation rate should be returned to the taxpayers, many of whom, especially those on fixed incomes, are being forced to sell their homes. Therefore, I would vote to reduce property tax rates for both residential and non-residential taxpayers, the overwhelming majority of whom are Vermonters. We must continue to fund special education and school construction. Presently, we have obligations for approved school construction projects in FY 2008 of $44.2 million. We have not identified the source of those funds. We must address the school funding formula to ensure that towns do not approve their budgets with the anticipation that other towns around the state will pay for their increased costs.
YOUNG VERMONTERS: I want to ensure that we value students who pursue careers in the regional vocational tech schools. I support increased funding for these schools. We must continue to work with corporations to encourage these students through on-the-job training programs. Furthermore, we should encourage students to attend college in Vermont by providing partial scholarships if they pledge to remain in Vermont for a given number of years after graduation. To attract jobs that pay a livable wage we must encourage people to invest in Vermont by making the state more friendly to business, by controlling energy costs, reducing property tax rates, holding the line on corporate taxes and reducing the time for the permitting process. The non-people costs of doing business impact on the ability of businesses to pay their people a livable wage while also providing other benefits like health insurance and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs).
SINGLE ISSUE: Dollars for controlling mosquitoes! I will work to add dollars in the FY07 supplemental appropriations bill to ensure we have the ability to control mosquitoes through the use of larvicide in the Spring of 2007. Furthermore, I will fight for a line item added to the FY08 budget which will cover a program for mosquito larviciding. This is important for the health and quality of life of all, as well as for the economy that is so very dependent on the tourist industry.
Responses from Kitty Oxholm
HEALTH CARE: Health care has been out of the reach of many Vermonters. The Catamount Health Plan, passed in the last legislative session but yet to be funded, will provide many uninsured families the opportunity to obtain the coverage they’ve not had. The peace of mind this will give to parents will surely be immense. In addition to the important and difficult work of funding the Catamount Plan, the legislature must address two other concerns. First, there will be those who will fall through the cracks and still not have coverage. This problem must be addressed.
Secondly, for many the availability of coverage is not the problem, but affordability is. We need to enable Vermonters to shop for health insurance in other states, where they may obtain more affordable coverage options.
ELECTRICITY: With winter coming and fuel prices so unpredictable, Vermont’s energy needs are on everyone’s mind. The legislature must look not only to power needs during this winter but to meeting demands for many years in the future. In addition to using current power sources, we must continue to explore the feasibility of developing and utilizing alternative energy sources. Of particular interest in this area is “cow power,” the use of farm waste products to generate electricity. The Blue Spruce Farm provides an example of creative alternative thinking in meeting energy demands. It is also essential that we promote conservation of our energy resources. Programs that educate about, provide supplies for, and reward conservation should be encouraged.
AGRICULTURE: Neither a Vermont calendar nor any magazine article about the state is complete without a picture of a family farm. Yet the number of small farms has decreased drastically and those remaining are endangered. It is imperative that the legislature provide supports to strengthen the economic position of the family farmer. At the end of the last legislative session an 8.6 million dollar Income Loss Program was put into place. Strong consideration must be given to continuing this support. In addition, programs that encourage agricultural diversification and alternative uses of crops should be supported. The use of biofuels — wood pellets, corn, soybeans, etc. — is especially exciting.
PROPERTY TAX CAP: The primary concern I have heard expressed by homeowners during this election campaign is the increase in property taxes. Some are actively seeking to sell their homes and leave the state because of it. Vermont’s school funding system is not working, and the legislature cannot ignore the situation.
It is time for all legislators to study and consider with open minds every recommendation for addressing this serious problem. Information and ideas should be sought from all related sources — Department of Education personnel; school board, school administrator, teacher, and parent organizations; business and service organizations; etc., etc. We are all in this together. Our children are priceless and their education is so important, but there must be changes in the education funding system.
YOUNG VERMONTERS: It has been said that Vermont’s number one export is young people. Many of us who are not so young would like that statement not to be true. Making it more attractive for them to study here after high school and working to create an economic environment in which they can thrive are important in keeping more of our young men and women in Vermont. Students often take their first jobs near the colleges they attended and settle there. Increased scholarships for attending state and private colleges and other post-secondary schools in Vermont would probably result in many remaining in the area.
In order to attract to the state businesses and industry that will provide stable, good paying jobs for our young people, we must offer a reasonable tax structure and a less restrictive permitting process. To support development of small businesses we must encourage the availability of affordable high-speed internet service in rural areas.
SINGLE ISSUE: Many of us remember the much safer days of our own childhood and those of our adult children. It is now a different time, and the legislature must work harder than ever to ensure that we maintain safe communities. We must protect our children from predators, by insisting on mandatory treatment for convicted sex offenders and improving the sex offender registry. We must see that fire, rescue, and police personnel have the ongoing specialized training they need to respond to increasingly complex emergencies. We must support schools as they work to keep their facilities safe from intruders.
Responses from Diane Lanpher
HEALTH CARE: The Vermont Health Care Affordability Act became law after years of intense legislative effort to address the issue that is very important to many Vermonters — health care. I am proud that our lawmakers did not avoid this complicated issue, even after being met with a veto in 2005. I believe H.861 focuses its effort on the two areas of health care that can bring substantial change to the Vermont health care system and to the health of all Vermonters. First, the act makes health care coverage available and affordable to uninsured Vermonters through Catamount Health. Second, it makes significant changes to the system of care that addresses chronic diseases in the Blueprint for Health. This Blueprint for Health affects the chronic disease care of all Vermonters and not just those insured through Catamount. The 2007 legislative session will be full of opportunities to refine and assist this historical action. I look forward to bringing conversation to the table that looks at another cost saving area, that of health care billing practices.
ELECTRICITY: Vermont will be facing an energy crisis and we need a comprehensive plan. I would like to be your voice and work with leadership on strong energy policy. Action has been taking in this direction with the Vermont Energy Security and Reliability Act signed in May 2006. This act shall conduct a comprehensive statewide public engagement process on energy planning, focused on energy supply choices facing the state beginning in 2012. I support legislation that promotes conservation, renewable energy, and financial incentives to farmers for alternative energy production from such products as manure.
AGRICULTURE: Events recently have combined to create an overwhelming disastrous impact on our farm industry. It is on the front page news almost daily. All fourteen counties in Vermont are designated disaster areas. The industry may need more and immediate relief to survive the short term. It is at times like these that I do not want to wait until January to analyze and begin to form a plan.
Long-term policies are also needed. I would support legislation that promotes and makes available strong education opportunities for current and future farmers. Farming is a business and efforts to advance the workforce through education are the keys to its future. I would also support when and where available, financial incentives to assist with advancements. For example look at the good work of the Cow Power efforts. In Vermont, farming means much more than just business, we see it as vitally important to our identity.
PROPERTY TAX CAP: Property taxes and education funding are a very serious issue for many of the citizens I have spoken with. I believe Vermonters would like to provide an equal educational opportunity to children and afford to live in their homes. Property tax caps have only been suggested, along with many other ideas. I believe property taxes need to be contained and funds allocated for education not be transferred or used to fund other projects. I would be cautious of any strategy that presented a simple budget cut without giving significant consideration to the ultimate impact on our children. I would support legislation that promotes containing costs, limiting diversion, and bases school taxes on Vermonters’ ability to pay and not on just their property values.
YOUNG VERMONTERS: It is often a positive opportunity for young people to go out and see the world. Vermont attracts many students from other states because Vermont offers them a different opportunity than their home state may. I would like to see our young come back home with a deeper understanding of why Vermont is the best place to live. I can speak to this personally. All my children have had out of state experiences as apart of their college education. I am very fortunate that all but one child lives and work within the community. We must address the issues that prevent them from staying. Look at the previous questions and I see opportunity for our youth’s future in the health care industry, the exploration of alternative energy, the agricultural industry and in education and training. I would support legislation that promotes affordable housing, loan forgiveness for education to advance the workforce in Vermont.
SINGLE ISSUE: I have walked the district and visited more than 2,400 homes and the issues the citizens of this community want their next legislator to work on is first, health care and second, property taxes. I bring proven legislative experience as I worked from within the Vermont Health Department on a bill written to bring protection to Vermont by limiting methamphetamine labs. This bill was signed into law in May 2006. I will also be pro-active with legislation on the following issues: energy, education, housing, environment, and safety. A common sense preventive approach to problems and issues is always less costly than to be forced to react to a crisis.
Responses from Liz Markowski
HEALTH CARE: The revised Catamount Healthcare Plan does not go far enough. Vermont has the advantage of being a small, innovative state. We can work this through. Whether it’s called single payer or universal healthcare, I fully support this concept. It is important to acknowledge that there is no perfect system, but we must work towards a better way. Our present system is cumbersome, expensive and exclusive. A single payer system, giving everyone basic healthcare, would cut administrative costs for hospitals and doctors and relieve the burden from employers (including municipalities and school districts, thus reducing property taxes). It would also allow employees the opportunity to change jobs more freely by not being tied to an employer’s health plan. Furthermore, after a divorce or death, dependents that now lose their health plan would retain basic health coverage. We would still have a choice of doctors and hospitals. I endorse co-pays and a sliding scale deductible to promote responsible behavior.
ELECTRICITY: Vermont has the opportunity to be on the forefront of clean energy. We are a green state in more ways than one. “Green” symbolizes environmental responsibility. We promote energy efficiency, clean energy and energy conservation, but we don’t always practice what we preach. Vermont Yankee is far from clean. Think about the long term affects and disposal of nuclear waste; how can we consider it clean energy? All the fear, real or imagined, around this power is disconcerting to say the least. Without question, I support true clean energy sources like wind, water and solar. How about encouraging solar panels on the tops of all the box stores in Williston as a start? Renewable energy sources are where our economic growth could be. Job creation in truly clean energy industry is an answer to Vermont’s so called brain drain of our youth and will provide good paying jobs for our middle class while investing in a clean future.
AGRICULTURE: Vermont and agriculture are inseparable. The beauty of Vermont is our working landscape and we can thank the many diverse types of farms. Vermont is not only rich in conventional dairy, but organic farming has a strong presence. There are more niche farms as well. Fresh produce, novelty cheese and livestock are also under the heading of agriculture. These cutting-edge entrepreneurs bring a high quality food product that will keep the Vermont label desirable. Legislation must be responsive to all the voices, including the growing number of Vermont organic farmers. The public is getting more aware and outspoken about what they want and don’t want in their foods. Legislation must reflect that. Further help could come from the tourism industry. Its success is directly related to our farms. Without our farms Vermont would look like “Any State, USA.” I will work hard to be a strong voice for all Vermont farmers.
PROPERTY TAX CAP: Over the years, the every increasing federal unfunded or partially funded mandates (No Child Left Behind) have put a strain on our public school budgets. Another strain is the sky rocketing health insurance costs to school districts. Looking back to question No. 1, universal healthcare would be a welcome relief to school budgets. I am proud of our ranking of Vermont student achievement, but that comes with a price. While I do feel it is the responsibility of a civilized society to educate our children, I do not agree that property taxes are the best and only way to pay this bill. Besides the prebate and rebate portion of Act 60 and 68 is costly to administer. It is important that any tax is sensitive to the ability to pay. It is my opinion that education funding based on property value alone is an unreasonable burden to the average, hard working Vermonter.
YOUNG VERMONTERS: I encourage young people to travel and experience other places. I believe it is short sighted to try to keep young Vermonters from leaving the state after graduation. When they come back to Vermont, they have a renewed appreciation for our state as well as bring fresh ideas and experiences from which to grow. Not only have many young adults returned after being away many Vermont college and university graduates from out-of-state choose to remain here. Our own governor is a Middlebury College graduate transplant from New Jersey. I also think our perceived loss of youth is reduced family size. It was not unusual 50 years ago to have families of eight and nine children. Today our average family is four. Vermont is a way of life. We are a niche state that spawns innovation and entrepreneurs. Improving and expanding telecommunications such as internet service will go along way to provide the infrastructure that is needed to continue to grow businesses here.
SINGLE ISSUE: Basic health insurance is out of reach for many. Healthcare costs every one of us insured or not and thousands of Vermonters are still not insured! I will support legislation that provides basic healthcare to all Vermonters. Without it we will continue to see more folks fall into the uninsured trap that continues to increase costs to all. The ever increasing costs of healthcare effect budgets in our schools, towns and state through increased taxes. It increases business expenses creating a difficult business climate and it causes higher premiums for those that can afford insurance. Health insurance must continue to be the primary issue of this legislative session without exception.
Responses from Mike Fisher
HEALTH CARE: The Catamount Health care plan passed last year contains some positive health care policy. It will help some Vermonters who do not have health insurance. As many readers know, I voted against this bill though. For me, it fell far short of what I believe we need to make life more affordable here in Vermont. Part of the problem with our health insurance system is that we are divided into many small, segmented risk groups. The Catamount plan continues that division. We must come together into a common risk group if we are going to make Vermont affordable for workers, small businesses and families in today’s economy.
ELECTRICITY: First, we must take our heads out of the sand if we are going to plan for this reality. I have been very frustrated by the lack of planning and foresight in this area. The Douglas administration fought us when we wanted to explore purchasing the Connecticut River dams. This was a missed opportunity that will make Vermont less affordable for employers and ratepayers. The answer to this problem will require many solutions. If we want our lights to go on when we turn the switch, and we want Vermont to be affordable, than the state must invest today in efficiencies and in the many opportunities for electric generation available to us here in Vermont.
AGRICULTURE: We will not get a system like the Northeast Dairy Compact back without a major change in Washington. The current effort to create agreements with other northeast states is a worthy direction, but could easily fall apart. While we actively pursue all available leads to protect our dairy farm industry, we must also assist farmers who chose to diversify into alternative or organic products.
We also have a real and important opportunity to produce profitable crops by supporting the creation of a bio-fuels industry here in Vermont. This will take some real leadership and investments in helping out farmers and business people develop this important infrastructure.
PROPERTY TAXES: There are numerous unfounded mandates from both the federal government and the state. A one-size fits all property tax cap designed in Montpelier may work fine for one town but leave another with a greatly diminished ability to provide for their students. I am a little shocked that the governor has the chutzpah to suggest a cap that he has not lived up to in the funding of his own executive office.
We must listen to the frustrations expressed by property tax payers and work to assure that people are asked to contribute a reasonable share of the cost of running our schools. We must also attack the cost drivers such as health care and energy costs that are responsible for the spending increases. I believe that there are real solutions to this problem.
YOUNG VERMONTERS: Vermont can be, and should be a model state for economic development and job growth. The pattern of young people leaving home to explore life and opportunities in the rest of the country and world is not a new one for Vermont. I know though, that many also come home to raise their families and to start excellent businesses here because Vermont is a great place to live. We must continue to help businesses start and grow in our communities. The tools we have to assist us in this effort include targeted tax breaks, streamlining permitting, and working hard to attack the energy and health care expenses that sap our business capital and interfere with quality job growth.
SINGLE ISSUE: I have spent a great deal of time this last biennium working on issues related to mental health care both in the community and at the State Hospital. Our mental health system was once a model of excellence for the country, but now suffers from a pattern of neglect and under-funding. Mental health issues affect families from all economic groups. We are learning more and more about the relationships between mental health and physical health as we attempt to save public dollars in health care. Yet I believe our third party insurance model is not allowing for and in many cases interfering with the care needed to treat our neighbors who struggle with mental health issues. I look forward to working on these issues in the next biennium.
Responses from Mitch Pearl
HEALTH CARE: The Health Care Affordability Act does represent significant reform, but it is only a first step and the Legislature must carefully monitor progress and implementation along the way. The Act transforms Vermont’s health care system to better care for those with chronic diseases, and it makes health care coverage available to uninsured Vermonters through the Catamount Health Plan. Catamount Health will provide uninsured Vermonters with access to health insurance, setting premiums based on ability to pay. The plan’s basic philosophy, which I support, is that everybody should be covered, and everybody should pay their fair share. I believe we have a moral obligation in this technologically advanced society to ensure that all citizens have access to our excellent health care system and to allocate costs fairly. Reaching that goal will not be easy, but I will work to see the promise of affordable, quality health care for all Vermonters fulfilled.
ELECTRICITY: I will support sustainable energy and environmental policies. For the short and medium term, we will need to negotiate the best contract we can with HydroQuebec, since this will remain a piece of the energy puzzle for the foreseeable future. Long term, we need a state energy plan that aims toward energy independence with a stable electrical power supply that includes a high percentage of renewable energy sources. We should provide financial incentives to increase investment and use of renewable energy technology and we must develop a consensus on the proper role of wind power in Vermont. To do this, we should take the politics out of wind power and let the scientists tell us when and where these facilities can best be sited. We should also put forth a major effort to improve building energy efficiency, starting with State buildings.
AGRICULTURE: The market for milk has not functioned to adequately compensate our farmers, and thus we need to find ways to support milk prices at the state level. We should provide technical and financial support to help dairy farmers obtain premium pricing for their products, by marketing the Vermont brand and supporting those who wish to go organic or into other areas of farming. We also need to make it easier for farmers to meet environmental regulations, for example by providing support to small farms that need to construct new manure pits. We should provide financial incentives to farmers to produce electricity from manure and to experiment with crops that might be used for biodiesel fuels.
PROPERTY TAXES: Property taxes need to come down, but I do not support arbitrary caps because they do not address the underlying cost drivers behind school budgets. We should be proud of our excellent school system in Vermont and stop blaming our schools for their failure to solve what are broader societal problems: the costs of health care, utilities and energy, and the fact that many kids do not show up at school ready to learn. In order to control school spending we must address these causes of rising budgets as well as the increasing demands we place on our schools and the numerous unfunded mandates from Washington and Montpelier. Moreover, Vermonters should pay their school taxes based on their ability to pay, not where they live or the appraised value of their property. Accordingly, I would support a greater reliance on income-based taxes as opposed to the current property tax-based system.
YOUNG VERMONTERS: With three teenagers — one who just graduated from Otter Valley — I am particularly concerned about this issue. That said, I do not believe Vermont can compete in an increasingly global economy on purely economic terms. What Vermont offers is an excellent quality of life. We have strong values, vibrant communities, excellent schools, a low crime rate, and access to an incredible variety of outdoor recreational opportunities. To keep young Vermonters here, we need to encourage entrepreneurship so that those drawn to the values, quality and style of life in Vermont can find ways to start and grow businesses that pay good wages. Business training programs such as those recently started by Champlain College are a good start and we must better fund higher education to ensure the most educated workforce. I also support initiatives to bring high tech infrastructures such as broadband throughout Vermont.
SINGLE ISSUE: I believe that open government is a significant issue, as we see increasing secrecy in government and a greater tendency toward deprivation of our civil liberties. Democracy is a messy process, but I believe that public officials are servants of the public and should always be accountable to the public they serve. Government meetings should not be held in secret, government records and documents should be open for inspection to the maximum extent possible, and peaceful debate and dissent should be welcomed. I will work for a more open and responsive government that respects our citizens’ privacy and civil liberties.
Responses from Nathan Fitzgerald
HEALTH CARE: Additional steps? The only thing the legislators did was add to the health care system or problem depending on your view of it. What they haven’t done is figure out a sustainable funding program for it. But left on their own they will. And it’ll come in the way of higher or new taxes. Just as every other program they considered last year. Get people off the state’s program. Allow employer to pick and choose from a wide variety of insurers, affordable insurers and back it up with some tax incentives for the employers who do, and we will shrink the number of people on the state’s program. This will allow us to better care for those on the program, allow employers to provide better insurance for their employees.
ELECTRICITY: I would hope we would take a little time, look at all the angles, try to figure out what our needs might be and than try to address them. Our needs may change drastically after we tax the middle class from the state and drive out business with raising property and health care taxes. Throw a few cents on a gallon of gas, toss in a new educational program and we won’t have to worry about energy in Vermont. And would the last one leaving Vermont please turn off the lights.
AGRICULTURE: Unlike my opponents have suggested, if one of those little GMO seeds blow into my yard, I promise not to sue the farmers.
PROPERTY TAXES: Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie has often stated that San Diego, Calif., has the same number of students as the whole state of Vermont. San Diego has one superintendent, Vermont has about 65. Maybe we could ask them what they think or maybe we could start learning how to spend our money more efficiently and with a property tax cap, we’ll have to.
YOUNG VERMONTERS: What is a livable wage? Every time the House votes to add 6 cents to a gallon of gas, livable wage changes. Every time the House votes to add programs to an educational system that struggles to pay for itself now, livable wages changes. Raise property taxes … livable wage changes. Steal from Medicaid … livable wage changes. Just about every state fee raised last year … and I suspect, the “actual earned wage” did not.
SINGLE ISSUE: All these issues are important. We discussed them all in the campaign two years ago. The voters entrusted them to Dave Shape and Mike Fisher. Two years later we have the same unresolved issues. Trust … it’s a terrible thing to waste
Responses from David Sharpe
HEALTH CARE: I believe that the bill the legislature passed in the last legislative session which put an emphasis on controlling chronic care costs for all Vermonters, and provided the availability of Catamount Health for uninsured Vermonters is a step in the right direction. The job is not done, however, until all Vermonters have health care coverage that is affordable, portable, and universal. This will require continued effort on the part of legislators and the cooperation and collaboration of the various stakeholders in the community. Many voters realize that health care costs are an enormous burden on taxes to fund school, state, and municipal budgets. Private employers and entrepreneurs are also beginning to support universal health care in order to level the playing field and enable socially responsible businesses to compete successfully. I will continue to work for affordable health care for all Vermonters.
ELECTRICITY: I wanted to have Vermont purchase the Connecticut River hydropower facilities. Because we didn’t, we will be forced to take a number of steps. First, we must reduce the amount of electricity we use, especially during peak demand, by expanding the role of Efficiency Vermont and taking personal responsibility for the amount of demand we place on the system. Secondly, we must enlarge and expand net metering and encourage as much local electrical generation as possible. Thirdly, we must fully embrace renewable electrical energy technologies using wind and solar to the greatest extent possible. Finally, we must renegotiate our contracts with Hydro-Quebec and Entergy, to obtain the best possible rate structure for future electrical power in Vermont.
AGRICULTURE: We need to continue to make an effort to reinstate the Dairy Compact; this was the best arrangement for Vermont dairy farmers in the last forty years. In addition, we need to help family farmers diversify into organic production, vegetable truck farming and other available profitable farming opportunities. One of those “other opportunities” is the growing of energy crops for use in the production of biodiesel and ethanol. One such energy crop that shows great potential is hemp. We need to redesign the current use program so that working farm families are more able to access this program. We need to continue to promote the “Vermont” brand name so our value added products retain and increase their worth. And we need to relocalize our own food purchasing habits so the money we Vermonters spend on food and energy stays here in Vermont.
PROPERTY TAXES: I believe that caps in general are a poor solution to a problem, The cap proposed in this in this case defeats equity between communities as written in our Vermont Constitution. The funding problem for our public schools is being driven by three factors; first, health care costs (see question one regarding our need to change the health care system here in Vermont); second, the special education mandates of the state and federal government need to be funded by the state and federal government; and, thirdly, the heavy burden of administrative costs reduces teacher effectiveness and adds costs to local communities in order to run their schools. In the end we need to restore our local community control over our schools. Improving the collection of property taxes according a families ability to pay would help limit the impact of property taxes on working Vermonters.
YOUNG VERMONTERS: I believe that this is one of our most difficult long-term challenges. Many good paying jobs are leaving our state and our country to low wage and environmentally unsafe countries. If we use our natural resources for farming and forestry and develop more value added products we can provide some good paying jobs and at the same time keep tourists coming to our state. We also need to encourage entrepreneurial enterprise by providing universal health care and other incentives to generate innovative business opportunities. If we moved aggressively into alternative energy businesses we would generate additional livable wage jobs. While we work to attract jobs that pay a livable wage we must retain our excellent public education, safe communities, and friendly towns. If we play to our strengths of rugged individualism and innovative problem solving we will continue to keep Vermont economically strong.
SINGLE ISSUE: My biggest concern this election cycle is global warming and its effects on our environment. Ultimately this threatens the maple industry as well as the farming and tourist industries here in Vermont. We need to grow energy crops, convert these crops to biodiesel and ethanol in order to reduce this threat to us and to keep our dollars circulating here in Vermont. We need to relocalize our economy in order to continue to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, which is a major driver in our foreign policy decisions. This relocalization effort needs to encompass all areas of our lives as we grow healthy foods, locally, and support each other in keeping Vermont the best place to live.
Responses from Steve Jackson
HEALTH CARE: It’s a world wide economic fact for every product imaginable: competition creates lower prices and better services for consumers. A single payer system…meaning one insurance company (government sponsored and controlled) covering everybody for every malady will have everyone rushing to the hospital or doctor for every problem big or small. There will be a line a mile long and a bill to match it. Instead Vermonters should have the freedom to choose any policy that suits their particular needs from any insurance company in a healthy competitive marketplace. Employers may offer coverage as a benefit to attract employees but never forced to by government decree. Government can get involved providing financial incentives to Vermonters who lead healthy lifestyles and pass state funded, annual good-health physical exams to catch problems early and more cheaply. Purchasing insurance is a personal decision and responsibility, not the business of bureaucrats.
ELECTRICITY: Advances in energy development will more easily occur when encouraged by the government for private enterprise to invent. Public funds can and should be used to this end but only for implementation in public projects; never for private use. Schools, government buildings, community parks, state and federal land can all be test laboratories for new energy systems. Both state and local government can encourage private enterprise endeavors by offering three-year tax credits for energy business start-ups. Business and research technology parks and farms intended specifically for incubating alternative energy businesses can be custom built to rent. Lacking any breakthroughs in energy technology Vermont needs to plan now to build with a neighboring state its own hydro-electric damn on the Connecticut River and/or a state of the art nuclear power plant. Energy independence is the ultimate goal; an economic and political security we all can feel safe and secure with.
AGRICULTURE: I make no distinction between family farms or family bowling alleys, dairy operations, apple orchards, lettuce farms, hardware stores, miniature golf centers, landscapers, corporate businesses or lemonade stands. All Vermont businesses work hard to provide the best products cheaper, faster and better than the competition. The laws of supply and demand, left alone, will weed out the inefficient operations benefiting those that remain and the consumers they serve. However, government can help by strengthening economic development and research centers, increase support for community and adult education and vocational centers and provide low interest government guaranteed loans (with strings attached) to assist businesses achieve higher levels of competitive output. A revamped year-round legal immigrant worker program is vital. Workers compensation taxes should be lowered, and the permit application process should be streamlined. The result: a vibrant economy and Vermont families deciding to stay together in this beautiful state of ours.
PROPERTY TAXES: Capping property taxes is a proper challenge for towns to seek school revenue elsewhere and/or cut expenses. It need not diminish the quality of education. The state can greatly help by increasing the tourism marketing budget and then distribute the rising sales tax revenue to towns. Towns can increase revenue by planning business parks and downtown development to add additional property or sales tax income. School boards must insist on an atmosphere of discipline, structure and community involvement within their school system to attract families to a first rate school and as a result re-build their student population. One-vote school budgets, vouchers, state funded professional negotiators for school boards to conduct teacher salary negotiation and direct public voting of those contracts will help a community gain control over and re-establish an affordable educational system.
YOUNG VERMONTERS: The reasons young adults leave any state are varied. They look for more interesting jobs, better paychecks, different surroundings, etc… Vermont communities can do much to increase the variety of business choices. With state help downtowns can be re-vitalized. Business parks can be developed. Tax breaks, or other “offers they can’t refuse” (with strings firmly attached and only for limited time) can be given to new, different and good paying businesses to start up and attract young Vermonters. And Vermont can do a better job supporting all educational options with tuition credits good at not only UVM and community colleges but trade schools and adult education too. Business opportunity and educated workers need to drop into the marketplace mix at the same time or else neither will stick around. Educated youth plus job opportunity equals a healthy economy and a stable population base.
SINGLE ISSUE: Underage drinking endangers our youth and fuels the drunk-driving population of the future. It is a destructive culture of acceptance, which needs to be replaced with the determination to control it once and for all. DUI laws should be strengthened and fully funded to include the implementation of ignition interlock devices, mandatory vehicle impoundment for repeat offenders and mandatory blood alcohol content testing in crashes involving death or serious injury. Schools should receive additional attention to develop strong programs to combat underage drinking. The legal system should receive additional revenue to catch and prosecute offenders.
Responses from Will Stevens
HEALTH CARE: I support the Green Mountain Health plan as a good first step toward reform of the state’s health care system. However, it will only serve Vermonters if it is part of a movement that will ultimately ensure universal patient access to health care, guarantee adequate payment to providers for services rendered, and bring accountability to the process. Vermont Health Care For All has proposed a model in which a government agency determines reimbursement rates (similar to the way federal government now determines Medicare payments), then takes bids from private insurers for coverage for a risk pool that contains every Vermonter. This approach to the delivery of health care is a public/private hybrid, whose benefits include:
• taking the insurance burden off employers
• tangible support for the goals of prevention and wellness
• savings in administration without compromising delivery of care.
• everyone is eligible, and everyone contributes.
ELECTRICITY: We can begin to reduce our reliance on centralized and “imported” sources of energy with conservation and efficiency measures. Today’s conserved energy is an investment in future power generation options. Good community planning also goes a long way toward reducing future energy needs, particularly in transportation. Alternative, homegrown electrical production methods such as “cow,” wind, and hydro power that feed into the existing grid offer exciting possibilities, especially when net metering is an option. (Net metering allows the producer to sell the power back through the grid at wholesale prices.) Finally, models of co-operative, community-owned, and privately held energy production initiatives now being considered in Addison County may have statewide applications, including hydro and wind power, grass fuel pellets, and bio-fuel and high protein animal feed made from locally-grown soybeans. Taking incremental steps toward energy self-reliance will reduce the potential economic and social upheaval the next energy crisis will bring.
AGRICULTURE: I have had some control over product pricing in my 25 years of selling vegetables directly to customers. Milk as a commodity gives farmers little room to determine the price of their product, and a lot of energy is spent on reducing the cost of production. I would support efforts that take a market-oriented approach and that help farmers who are interested explore ways of adding value to their product.
I support the idea of an interstate legislative agreement calling for the “over order” pricing of milk, which will give Vermont farmers a better milk price without the need for Congressional action. I also support the idea of a “Rural Heritage Fund,” funded by a 1 percent increase in the Rooms Tax and sliding-scale contributions from farmers during times of higher milk prices. Money from this counter-cyclical fund would be banked and paid out to farmers when milk prices are low.
PROPERTY TAXES: Placing handcuffs on the people who already do the heavy lifting — local school boards, teachers, and administrators — will not help the quality of our children’s education. Nor will it address the deteriorating morale, expectations and/or performance I’ve sensed in our educational communities. Educational quality is not only tied to the amount of money spent, but to the people performing the service, and the social and physical environment as well.
I support returning meaningful budgetary responsibilities to local school boards, asking teachers to administer less and teach more, and using revenue from income tax to relieve some of the reliance on property tax. Taxpayers support their community schools when they can see the return on their tax dollar as an investment and not as a cost. New methods of evaluating both teachers and students that can ultimately rate individual students’ abilities to move on in the educational system are also needed.
YOUNG VERMONTERS: One answer to this complex question is the development of a trained work force that can compete globally against similar workers from other areas. Technological infrastructure such as broadband capacity will help, and jobs that are consistent with Vermont’s values, such as the engineering and manufacturing of “green” technologies, are to be encouraged. Businesses that complement the utilization of our natural and agricultural resources, such as processing, manufacturing, and finishing facilities, can also pay well, depending on how the product is marketed. The state has a variety of incentive possibilities, including loans, grants, and tax programs that can help.
The challenge is to somehow ensure that native Vermonters get the “good” jobs early on in their working lives, whether right out of school, or after a few years away from Vermont expanding their horizons.
SINGLE ISSUE: The economic sustainability of Vermont’s farms and rural communities is of paramount importance to me. Last spring the governor vetoed the Farmer Protection Act. I support the legislation because it puts financial responsibility for potential environmental problems on the corporations who create, patent, and profit from genetically engineered life forms, and not on the farmers who use genetically engineered seeds as labeled. Framing this issue in a way that pits one type of farming against another is a disservice because the negative implications for the future of all types of farming are too great.