Addison-3 candidates share views at city debate

VERGENNES — The four candidates for the two Addison-3 seats representing Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Addison, Panton and Waltham in the Vermont House of Representatives this past Wednesday joined House candidates from around the county at a forum at the Vergennes Opera House devoted to economic development.
The Addison County Economic Development Corp. and Vision to Action Vermont (V2AVT.org) co-sponsored the event, which drew 12 of the 13 county candidates in contested races.
Middlebury Community Television will broadcast the event and share it with public access stations in Bristol and Vergennes. The forum will also be available online at middleburycommunitytv.org.
As well as the four Addison-3 candidates — three-term Democratic incumbent Diane Lanpher of Vergennes; Republican incumbent Warren Van Wyck of Ferrisburgh, who was appointed in 2013; and two challengers, both from Addison, Republican Peter Briggs and Democrat John Spencer — eight other candidates answered a series of questions about Vermont’s economy:
•  From the Addison-1 district, incumbent Democrat Betty Nuovo and independent Calvin McEathron. Event moderator Robin Scheu, Addison County Economic Development Corp. executive director, said Democratic challenger Amy Sheldon had to be in Brattleboro.
•  From the Addison-4 district, incumbent Reps. Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol, and Mike Fisher, D-Lincoln, and GOP challengers Fred Baser of Bristol and Valerie Mullin of Monkton.
•  From the Addison-5 district, incumbent Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, and Democratic challenger Susan Smiley of New Haven. 
All the candidates were given a minute to introduce themselves, then each was given two minutes to answer a general question that they had seen in advance about economic development.
Each was then given another two minutes to respond to another question chosen at random from a group of other questions that they had also seen in advance.  
Briggs, who mounted a successful write-in effort to get on the Nov. 4 general election ballot, went first in the introductions, noting that he was a native Vermonter now working on his parents’ Addison dairy farm. Briggs, who serves on the Addison Development Review Board, said he was “running with Warren Van Wyck” for the House seat.
Lanpher, who has served on the House Transportation Committee and was Addison-3’s top vote-getter two years ago, cited her 30 years in Vergennes. “It’s a great place to live,” she said.
Spencer, a former chairman of two school boards, now heads Addison’s DRB and its Town Hall Restoration Committee. He also grew up on a farm, and his career has been in marketing farm products. Spencer described himself as a “lifelong resident, and a good Vermont answer would be — so far.”
Van Wyck, appointed to complete the term of Vergennes Republican Greg Clark after Clark’s untimely death, has served on the General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee. For the past 26 years he has worked as a developer/analyst for the University of Vermont. “I look forward to serving again,” he said.
All four responded to the following question: “Economic development generally refers to the sustained, concerted actions of policymakers and communities that promote the standard of living and economic health of a specific area. What do you see as the biggest challenge to economic development in Vermont, and what do you suggest doing about it?”
VAN WYCK: “Vermont can’t continue making excuses about the great recession. You look at New Hampshire, and their median income is up, and Vermont is down. You look at New Hampshire, and their poverty rate is down, but in Vermont it’s up. So there’s some other problems in Vermont. There’s some businesses leaving Vermont with good-paying jobs. I think we ought to look at why they’re leaving Vermont … They’re going to New Jersey or North Carolina because the property taxes are a lot lower … Vermont is rated as having one of the most negative business climates, and other states are responding to it, and I don’t think Vermont’s doing enough … The Legislature has to listen to businesses, and that’s the first thing that I do.”
SPENCER: “The short answer to the question for me is rising property taxes. I got into this campaign because I wanted to serve the people … I wanted to serve the people in this particular session because I knew that property taxes and education reform would be at the top of the needs … We have one of the highest costs per student in the nation. We must lower that. But in order to reform the financial part of education, we need to redesign the whole school system in this state so we can meet the needs of the 21st century … I pledge to work as hard as possible to get some political reform done. Because I think it takes political courage and someone who wants to get the job done.”
LANPHER: “It’s been a challenge because we have had decreasing state and federal funds. And revenues are not what they used to be. However, even though we’ve had these revenue constraints. In the budget last year, which I supported, we included a 6 percent increase for the regional development (corporations). We included a 6 percent increase for regional and municipal planning … What I’ve heard from businesses is one of their biggest challenges is locating well trained, skilled workforces … I have worked with and pledged to continue to work to partner with industry to help create an opportunity for a well trained workforce … Declining middle-class wages have put a restriction on economic growth and … I have supported equal pay for women.”
BRIGGS: “Taxes especially recently have been continuously going up and they’ve been consuming ever higher levels of wealth that is necessary not only to grow the economy, but to sustain it. The fix to that would be the government to take serious steps to reforming both the budget and the various agencies that are consuming at ever higher levels the revenues to the state. And regulations in our free society play an important part in preventing force and fraud from entering the marketplace. But when they are used to control the marketplace, they bring with it force and fraud, which stifles economic growth.”
In the next round, Briggs and Spencer were each asked the same question, as were Lanpher and Van Wyck.
Q: “What are some current state economic development programs that you support, and what programs might you suggest help businesses expand and grow in Vermont?”
BRIGGS: “When government’s there to try to help, it’s important they actually do help. When you apply fertilizer and only grow weeds, you haven’t done much good. And let’s not forget how government gets money to try to stimulate the economy. They have to try to take it from people who are producing … And right now we’re taking way too much from people who are producing in this state, and we’re getting way less producers in this state … Training people to work in various businesses is a good idea, but it must be done effectively. These programs have to actually provide a benefit back to the community. When you’re investing more than you’re getting back out of it, you’re not getting very far. And frankly, with this very anti-business atmosphere in this state, whatever is done to try to promote the economy is going to end in failure.”
SPENCER: “Government should be in the economic development business. We need to develop good jobs, good-paying jobs in the state. Businesses around the state, both start-up and expanding, need capital … VIDA (Vermont Industrial Development Authority) … since it started operating agricultural loans, has improved the value of our farms in Vermont. That has raised grand lists, that has raised employment, and that has raised taxes for the base. I’d like to see VIDA … also diversify agriculture and value-added products … Vermont Employment and Growth Incentive helps both new and expanding businesses hire workers at 160 percent of the minimum wage, which in 2013 would be about $13.76 … We have to develop better wages because four out of the five towns in my district are below the state average in wages earned.”
Q: “Given the large projected state budget shortfall, what would you do to either raise revenues or make cuts to the budget?”
LANPHER: “We balance our budget every year … Closing gaps … requires a lot of work. And it is not responsible for a legislator to disengage or not take part in finding ways to balance the functions citizens require from their government — health care, economic development, public safety — those are just a few. We are also required to create the revenues … that are needed for that functioning government. So there’s a process. The governor presents a budget at the beginning of the year, in January, and it is up to the Legislature to test the governor’s assumptions … The state has taken on a new way of budgeting, which is RBA, Results Based Accounting. And program heads have to defend their programs. How well did they do? How much did they do? Is Vermont getting better? And that’s how we close the gap.”
VAN WYCK: “At the Republican caucus we gather together and decide what we think might be a sustainable budget. And typically we say, well, we could go with 3 percent. But that’s not what the governor and the majority party passes. It was like 5 percent in May. And in August we find out the revenue projections aren’t there, and it had to be cut back … There has to be fiscal restraint. You’re not going to reduce the taxes unless you’re going to reduce the spending … It’s important what your targets are. And I believe it’s important at the beginning of a session to set a target that’s reasonable. I don’t think we should be raising taxes.”
Van Wyck went first in the closing statements, noting his 100 percent Vermont Chamber of Commerce rating and record of voting against tax increases.  
“We’ve got to listen to what the small businesses say. When I come up with legislation or hear about it, I will go down Route 7 and talk to people,” he said. “And some of the small businesses will say it will put them out of business. And there are sorts of these regulations and mandates that are dreamt up that will either stifle small businesses or cause them not to start up.”
Spencer stressed his optimism, including his belief that there are opportunities to create jobs in Vermont. Primarily, he focused on education.
“One of the biggest problems in Vermont is the high property tax. And in order to change that, it’s not the property tax system we have to change, it’s the school system,” he said. “In order to do that, we have to reach across the aisle. We have to go to teachers. We have to go to administrators. We have to go places that we may not have ever been. But we have to bring them together to change the system. We have too many barriers … in the educational system today that are keeping us from lowering the cost of education. And it keeps the quality of education down also.”
Lanpher first cited her work to help get a new Lake Champlain bridge built, the full effect of which she said was not felt until this summer. Then she looked ahead.
“What are we going to do next? That was in the past. We have an opportunity to develop the state land that is within Vergennes and Ferrisburgh, 330 acres. Sen. Ayer and I have worked on that,” she said. “And I supported the rail. The rail (depot) has moved, now we have to work on getting that train here.”
Briggs talked about schools and larger issues.
“The way our school funding system works, local municipalities decide how much to spend and the state has to cover it. Now my opponent says we have to find revenue from other areas to keep covering it. That’s only going to last for so long. If the policy is not changed, the only option Montpelier is going to be left with is to take over the running of schools so as to keep total control over the money supply,” he said. “As a young person, I’m seeing these issues continue to grow and current leadership not doing anything serious to protect my future, and I’m tired of it. So I’m getting involved and I’m running.”
Editor’s note: Candidates in the Bristol-area Addison-4 district will take part in a forum at Holley Hall in Bristol this Wednesday, 7-9 p.m.

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