Candidates on the Issues: Paul Ralston, Addison 1
STATE BUDGET: My honest answer to this question is: “I don’t know.” I will need to learn and study the details of the forecasts for revenues and expenses. I expect all the easy opportunities have been taken, so our work will have to be focused and strategic. My business training informs me that the sooner we make adjustments, the less dramatic those adjustments need to be to be effective over time. My priority will be to save jobs where possible while looking forward to job expansion. I have heard the message loud and clear that Vermonters do not want to pay more taxes in these challenging times.
EDUCATION FUNDING: Over the past years, a concerted effort has been made to meet court-mandated equity in education financing. Vermonters agree that all children need access to the highest quality education regardless of their place of residence. An important, positive outcome of the education financing acts has been some income sensitivity that links education tax payments to citizens’ ability to pay. I hope and expect that school boards can find sustainable ways to maintain education quality and equality without onerous tax increases. Our work at the state level needs to complement and support those local initiatives.
ENERGY: Vermont Yankee should not be relicensed after 2012. There are legitimate concerns about reliability and safety of the plant. The owner, Entergy Corp., has made Vermonters uncomfortable and uncertain about the plant’s operations and decommissioning. Clearly, the days of inexpensive power from this plant are over. The current proposals offer electricity no cheaper than is available from the New England grid. We are not facing a power shortage; this is not cheap power; and there are good reasons to be concerned about the safe operations of this aging plant.
AGRICULTURE: Vermont’s farm and forest sectors are as important to our economic future as they have been to our past. We do farming and forestry well in Vermont. As markets change, we need to be strategic and creative in our response. We need to invest in the new opportunities that the market presents. We need to add more value to our farm and forest products, develop new markets for them, and compete on the basis of our strengths. Federal programs are necessary to address the national commodity issues; in Vermont we can and should focus on differentiating our products outside the commodity models.
HEALTH CARE: Should the state pursue additional health-care reforms beyond Catamount Health and the federal health-care law? Yes. Progress has been made, but more reforms are needed. I hope we can explore a single-payer option that minimizes overhead costs and allows plans to be “portable” by de-linking them from employment. I realize such a plan will require federal permission, and I think we have the opportunity to make our case for this option. Health insurance reform is necessary for economic development and expansion. The rapidly rising cost of health insurance is a drag on individuals, employers and taxpayers. We can’t afford to see these costs as “beyond our control.”
JOBS: In spite of these challenging times — or because of them — we need to invest in economic expansion and job growth. Strategic public policy can help build confidence in a positive economic future, help us save existing jobs and support the creation of new jobs. Economic growth can and must be “smart growth” that leverages our cultural heritage, our under-utilized infrastructure, and our superior quality of life. I am hugely optimistic about our future; we need to seize this opportunity to realign our policies to the changing marketplace. We need to first support our existing enterprises and employers — businesses and nonprofits — to help them stabilize then grow.