Scott advocates changes in education, human services
ST. ALBANS — After 10 years in the Vermont State Senate Republican Phil Scott is seeking the job of lieutenant governor.
“I first ran for the Legislature because I felt Vermonters and the business community was not being well represented,” Scott said in a recent interview. A native Vermonter and resident of , Scott was born in Barre and has been a partner in Dubois Construction in Rutland for 25 years. He serves Washington County in the Senate.
During his career in the Legislature, Scott has served on the institutions, natural resources and transportation committees. During the most recent session he was chair of the Institutions Committee and vice chair of the Transportation Committee.
Scott is also a racecar driver at the track in Barre and has won 22 late model races at Thunder Road. He began his racing career as a Formula One snowmobile racer.
Changes will need to be made in both education and human services in order to make up the state’s expected $100 million deficit, said Scott, who called Challenges for Change “a step in the right direction.”
“We need to look at ways we can be more efficient in education. We need to address the teacher-pupil ratio, and look at the number of superintendents we have,” he said. “I’m a fan of local control but that doesn’t mean you can’t be more efficient. We will need to consolidate, and it’s within our reach to raise the ratio to an affordable level.
“We need to do a better job balancing between entitlement programs and a safety net,” Scott added. “I believe we need to do a better job in matching the amount we spend on social services with the average per capita incomes we have in Vermont. We can’t afford to be on the top end with benefits, when we’re in the middle with our per capita incomes.
Unlike his GOP primary opponent, Mark Snelling, who expressed opposition to income sensitivity for property taxes (which means those with lower incomes get a break on their taxes), Scott said, “I don’t think income sensitivity is a complete mistake, I just think it is overused.”
He supported the efforts by Gov. Jim Douglas to reduce income sensitivity threshold so that those earning more than $75,000 would not qualify for a property tax relief, rather than the current threshold of $90,000. Scott said it would save the state $20 million.
Scott favors a statewide school calendar as well as a longer school day and year. “I also don’t think we are getting our money’s worth in education,” he said.
“Early education is important,” Scott said, adding that he is not sure the state can support “what everyone wants to do.
“I’m not sure we are pinpointing the problems as well as we could be,” Scott said, noting that students learn differently. “It eventually all gets down to the quality of the teachers. Those who are truly good educators can figure out how those students who stumble fail, and they can really have an impact on correcting the problem.”
He believes teachers should be evaluated on the basis of student outcomes. Good teachers should be rewarded, according to Scott, who added, “Teachers can’t be guaranteed jobs regardless as to how they perform.”
When asked about the issue of whether Vermont can meet the future demands on the pension funds for teachers and state employees Scott replied, “Our pension issues are huge. But I’ve also been raised to believe that a deal is a deal. If we have promised existing state employees and teachers a certain pension, then we have to fulfill that promise.”
Future employees, however, should not be given the same level of pension benefits, he said, acknowledging, “It will be a tough transition.”
“The state doesn’t create jobs,” Scott said when asked about the economy. “But the state has an effect on the number of jobs we do create.
“We need to recognize the problems, and then fix them. Then, with a straight face, we can bring business into a better environment. That’s what builds a more suitable business environment for Vermont. Ultimately, that’s what produces jobs,” Scott said.
“I’m also not a big fan of tax incentives for new businesses as much as I am for helping the ones that are already here. I think it’s an issue of tax fairness,” Scott said.
He also said the state is not in a position to help all kinds of businesses and needs to restructure in order to target resources more effectively.
While there is a great deal of talk about green businesses, those businesses “will struggle here too, unless we adjust our regulatory structure to help them,” Scott said. “It doesn’t matter what you produce. You have to fix that before we bring them into the mix.”
ELECTRICITY IN VERMONT
On the future of Vermont Yankee, Scott said he believed the Public Service Board should make the decision about the relicensing of the nuclear power plant, not the Legislature.
“I thought the vote in the Senate was nothing but a political ploy and it was made at an inopportune time,” Scott said. “To take Vermont Yankee off the table when we were negotiating with Hydro-Quebec was detrimental.” Hydro-Quebec and Vermont Yankee each supply roughly one-third of the state’s electric power. The state is currently negotiating a new contract with Hydro-Quebec.
“I also think it’s a mistake to shut Vermont Yankee down,” Scott said. “If it’s judged unsafe, then sure, shut it down. But I think nuclear power is one of the answers and fossil fuels are the problem … Anything we can do to reduce our reliance on oil is something we should strive for.
“We’re all in favor of developing our renewable resources. But it’s not going to happen overnight, and it will cost more,” Scott said. “It’s important to remember that for every megawatt of renewable power we develop that there has to be a megawatt of base-load power to back it up.”
Scott opposes decriminalizing marijuana. “We have enough problems now,” he said.
Scott called reducing the costs of dealing with incarcerating criminals and following up after they are released “a tough issue for most Vermonters.
“It’s so expensive to incarcerate, but, it’s just like the issue with pensions, a deal is a deal. If people break the law, they should serve their time,” Scott said.
“But we also need to deal with realities. If the offenders have met their minimums and are not a danger to society, then we should figure out ways to reintegrate them into society more quickly,” he added.
“There are issues where changes would be more effective and less costly. For example, when someone gets a (citation for drunken driving), they get their license taken away from then. But they have to get to work, so they drive. And they get caught. Then they get a DLS (driving license suspended), and then another DLS. Pretty soon they are looking at jail time. I’m an advocate for things like alcohol sensors, so that they are not able to drive drunk to begin with. We should look for similar solutions,” Scott said.
ON HEALTH CARE REFORM
“I understand the desire to find ways to reduce the costs of health care, but I’m just not sure we are looking at it in the right way,” Scott said when asked about health care.
“We are looking at ways for people to pay for what we have. But that doesn’t address the responsibility we have to take care of ourselves,” Scott said, pointing to the prevalence of diabetes and heart disease. “We have allowed ourselves to become that way. Our focus should be more on prevention.
“My other concern about Vermont marching ahead with yet another version of health care reform is that Congress has already passed is legislation,” Scott said. “And we don’t understand the effects of that, and yet we’re looking at something over and above that. I’d like first to see what happens with the federal program.”
Scott said his business offers employees a medical savings account. “We had to do it because we could not afford the premiums,” Scott said. “We saved a lot of money, but it also gets back to the individual’s sense of responsibility. When you make health care decisions using money in your account, you make decisions accordingly. I’d like for us to go further with ideas like that.”