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Meet your candidate: Fred Baser, Addison-4

HEALTH CARE: States have regulated health insurance for decades. The federal government began their efforts in 1965 as President Johnson met the issues of insuring the aged and the poor (Medicaid and Medicare). ERISA, President Bush’s Part D drug coverage and President Obama’s Affordable Care Act all sought to make medical care approachable.
In Vermont we have aggressively amended state law on health insurance for over two decades. Most recently, Act 48 proposes a universal health plan for all Vermonters that will control costs, be transparent and established a health benefit exchange. Given the high cost of care, state government is prudent to be involved in the solutions. As the debacle of Health Connect (Exchange) shows, the path is not clear. Using what has worked in the private sector with our universal health plan may be worth looking into.
SCHOOL FUNDING: Rising property tax bills, of which approximately 80 percent is education funding, is the #1 issue presented to me as I meet people. Here are some points to consider:
•  Learn why and address the growing number of staff in our schools as student population decreases
•  Revise the funding formula that 98 percent of Vermonters do not understand and create a disconnect between education spending and taxes
•  Address unfunded mandates by state and federal governments
•  Move to a statewide teachers contract
•  Look to diversifying paying for education with other broad based taxes.
TRANSPARENCY: Transparency in Montpelier would be promptly answering requests from constituents, publishing information on pertinent subjects, have easy access to all elected officials, votes on the issues are readily available, an easily accessible web site that follows all events in a timely way. And admit to mistakes and embarrassments.
 I don’t know how much of this is already in place. It should be. It makes for a more informed populace.
OPIATE ADDICTION: Gov. Shumlin’s 2014 State of the State address shined a spotlight on a growing problem, opiate addiction. The 2014 Legislature took two steps to address this. Senate Bill 295 added public health measures such as making sure addicts treated in small centers have equal access to counseling. The budget added $6.7 million to fund a “hub and spoke” program that addresses treatment. Little was added to prevention and law enforcement detection efforts. Small steps were taken but what was a hot topic in January, faded by the end of the session. Will the Legislature take additional steps in 2015? Parents are scared for their children given the ease of access of opiates. People are nervous about the thefts that have occurred to fund opiate addiction. We need to continue to act.
HIGHER EDUCATION: Making post-secondary education less costly for Vermonters and finding jobs for graduates is a multi-pronged effort. Some concepts include loan forgiveness programs where a portion of the loan is forgiven for every year a graduate remains working in the state. Offer internships to students with cooperating Vermont businesses. Develop career centers for students focusing on Vermont job opportunities. Create partnerships with our vocational centers and Vermont businesses to help train young people for livable wage jobs. Finally the state could allocate more money for the in-state college and university system. We rank near the bottom when compared to other states in our funding of post-secondary education. Yet we are almost at the top of the list on what we spend on high school and elementary school students. A little more balance would be great.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: State government can play a key role in economic development. Vermont has many plusses for businesses. Vermont’s environmental reputation is great. Recreational opportunities abound. We are close to three major cities. In addition, we already have in place laws and agencies that we can use to advance economic growth. What are the key ingredients to growth, more jobs and a broader tax base? Experiences from around the nation point to these key points:
•  A solid secondary and post-secondary education system
•  Affordable housing
•  Sound infrastructure of highways, rail and airports
•  Internet and wireless phone connections
•  Low crime and good law enforcement
•  A reasonable regulatory and permitting environment
•  A tax policy that is fair with the perception that tax dollars are well spent
•  Funding to help start-ups and expansion efforts.
What Vermont needs at this moment isn’t more legislation but a long-term development plan coupled with an attitude that economic growth is a priority.
CANDIDATE’S CHOICE: A good example of how I differ from my opponents is with fiscal management. For at least the last five years, the Legislature has increased spending by an average of 5 percent annually. Has your paycheck gone up 5 percent annually? Has the Vermont economy expanded by 5 percent a year? Probably not.
It is no surprise that Vermont had a $31 million shortfall in state revenue for the 2013/2014 fiscal year. And, currently, the state anticipates a $100 million shortfall for this current fiscal year. A 3 percent spending increase over the last few years would have given us some breathing room and, maybe, welcome news that, wow, we have a modest surplus. 

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