Scott Milne offers himself as GOP alternative for governor

MIDDLEBURY — As the CEO of Milne Travel, Republican Scott Milne has sent many people to exotic locations throughout the world.
The North Pomfret Republican is now hoping to book a destination of his own, and it’s very exotic: Montpelier, where he hopes to serve as Vermont’s governor. He faces two-term incumbent Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Putney Democrat.
But in order to complete his trip, the state’s voters will have to punch Milne’s ticket on Nov. 4. So Milne is traveling throughout the state stumping for as many votes as he can.
He told the Addison Independent during a recent interview that he is enjoying his campaign experience, though he acknowledged there have been some bumps along the way.
His mother, former state representative and Milne Travel founder Marion Milne, died this past August.
The Daily Show with John Stewart and The Late Show with David Letterman both rebroadcast his gaffe from a candidates’ debate last week when he misspoke about having been born in Vermont and had to clarify he was born in Brooklyn.
During his travels, he is invariably approached by a lot of Vermonters, some of whom give him high marks and encouragement, and others who give him some grief.
“I like to compare it to the old Wide World of Sports intro,” he said, referring to the ABC Sports program that showed footage accompanied by the narrative, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” He said he can experience those divergent feelings numerous times during the course of a campaign day.
 “I have promised people that I am going to listen before I act,” Milne said. “I’m not talking in sound bites.”
Milne, 55, said the people he’s been meeting have expressed a lot of concerns about how the state is being run, particularly as it relates to health care policy, growing property taxes, education quality and the business climate.
Milne recently made some waves with his release of an “education and business plan.” That plan calls for, among other things:
•  Capping Vermont’s statewide education property tax rate for the next two years, during which time the administration and Legislature would devise a new system for funding education.
•  Reducing Vermont’s average per-pupil spending rate from its current level of around $17,500, to the national level of around $12,000. Milne said this would free up tuition money for the state’s roughly 7,000 annual high school graduates to attend the Vermont State College System.
•  Consolidating the state’s 46 supervisory unions into around 15 “regional education districts,” or REDs, which Milne believes would be an administrative cost-saver to help fund the college scholarships. He stressed individual school districts within those REDs would still be able to maintain higher per-pupil spending rates if they chose to do so, according to Milne, who is also an advocate for expanded public school choice in Vermont.
The plan has drawn criticism from the Shumlin camp.
Shumlin campaign spokesman Scott Coriell said Milne’s plan would “blow a $42 million hole in Vermont’s education system, according to the Joint Fiscal Office.”
Milne disputed his opponent’s assessment. He said there is a $43 million broad-based tax increase for education “already cooked into the books for next year.” Milne considers property taxes to be a broad-based tax during this post-Brigham decision era of education funding.
In 2005, 61 percent of the state’s education system was funded by property taxes, according to Milne. That percentage has now gone up to 69 percent of the $1.8 billion being spent, he said.
“The governor and the Legislature don’t want to do the hard work,” Milne said of the inability thus far to remedy the situation.
“It’s not a two-year gimmick,” Milne said of his plan. “What I believe … is if we are successful with this, it’ll perhaps be a fix for our demographic trend.”
That trend, Milne noted, has seen many Vermont high school graduates leave for better economic opportunities in other states.
“If people around the country and the world realize that Vermont is a place you can go as a middle-income family and your children can go to college there for free, I think it’s going to attract the people who were attracted here 100 years ago — that immigration boom,” Milne said.
“It’s an opportunity to energize our economy with an innovative idea, and we are a small enough state where we can do this,” he added.
But the state should not proceed along its current path to a single-payer health care system, according to Milne. He said Shumlin and the Democrat-controlled Legislature are leading the state down a health care path that is fraught with uncertainty. The Shumlin administration has yet to release details on how it proposes to fund a single-payer system, Milne noted.
“People are concerned we are doubling-down on Peter Shumlin’s reckless experiment with our health care system,” Milne said. “To me, when you sift through what people are saying, the reason it is a big topic is because of the uncertainty people are seeing.”
Milne said 25 percent to 35 percent of the costs of private health insurance are associated with a cost-shift due to the underfunding of the federal Medicaid and Medicare programs.
Instead of proceeding with single payer, Milne believes Vermont should allow the technology firm Optum to further develop the Vermont Health Connect website. That website was shut down several weeks ago amid some technical issues, providing an obstacle for those trying to register for benefits through the federally mandated health care exchange.
“If Optum doesn’t work, then we have a disaster and need to figure out what to do,” Milne said. “In the short-term, we have a triage situation — are we going to deal with the Optum site and have a cost-benefit analysis, or are we going to have a real disaster that we’re going to have to deal with.”
Milne believes it was a mistake for the Legislature to advocate for a single-payer system.
“We should have been content with the (federal) Affordable Care Act,” Milne said. “We really just put the (ACA) on steroids. The premise on how single-payer was going to revitalize our economy was foolish.”
Single-payer advocates have in part argued that such a system would finally free businesses from having to offer health insurance benefits. Milne believes having such a system in place would attract low-paying jobs and steer away high-paying jobs. Late Wednesday Milne offered his plan for spurring economic growth in Vermont
Other issues Milne discussed during the interview with the Independent included:
•  Big government. Milne believes Vermont’s governmental bureaucracy is too big for a state of 640,000 residents.
“We have the population of a medium-sized city and the governmental complexity of a small European country,” he said.
“We need to reorganize state government so it can be more efficient.”
•  Planning. Milne said the state needs to adopt more of a long-term view on economic planning, while at the same time extending short-term incentives to those willing to establish businesses in the Green Mountain State.
•  The Democrats’ overwhelming numerical superiority in the General Assembly and executive branch.
“One-party rule is not good for anyone,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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