Gov. Shumlin answers newspaper’s questions
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin is running for re-election to his third term as the top executive of the Green Mountain State.
The St. Albans Messenger solicited answers from Shumlin to a set of questions, and what follows is Shumlin’s responses.
Q: If you could summarize your accomplishments as governor into four bullet points what would they be?
A: Growing jobs and economic opportunity – We’ve created thousands of new jobs since I became governor, are home to one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates, are leading neighboring states in recovering from the Great Recession and registered the second fastest personal income growth rate in America in the first quarter of 2014. None of that matters, however, if you are one of the many middle class families in Vermont and around the country who are struggling to get by. We have more work to do, and I won’t rest until every Vermonter has the economic security and quality of life they deserve.
• One of the best education system in America – I am proud that during my tenure as governor we have continued to improve Vermont’s education system – from early childhood to higher education – to help make it one of the best in the country. Even though we have good graduation rates, we do not move enough of our kids, particularly those from lower income families, beyond high school. That’s why I fought for better career readiness and flexible learning initiatives for our students. We also know that the early years are incredibly important. To ensure every Vermont child has the opportunity to arrive at school ready to learn, I fought for and signed into law universal prekindergarten education and also secured the largest federal investment in early childhood education in Vermont’s history. And to help working families deal with the ever rising cost of college and move more of our students beyond high school, we implemented reforms so Vermont kids can take college courses while in high school and receive tuition assistance, earning up to two years of tuition free college education if they play their cards right.
• Revitalizing and investing in our downtowns Since I have been governor, we have
invested heavily in our downtowns from St. Albans to Burlington to Barre, Brattleboro, Rutland and St. Johnsbury. Our downtowns are the hearts of our communities and our economy. I am very proud that through both public/private investment partnerships, such as in St. Albans and Brattleboro, and increased downtown tax credit and tax increment financing expansions, such as in Burlington, we have helped to rebuild our historic downtowns for the 21st century, creating jobs and economic growth in the process.
• Turning the tide on opiate addiction – The rising tide of opiate addiction is the one issue that could compromise the quality of life we hold so dear in Vermont. We can’t move fast enough to solve this crisis. I was proud to propose and sign legislation that expands treatment, gets addicts into recovery and cracks down on those who bring these dangerous drugs into our state. While we still have more work to do, we’ve almost doubled the number of Vermonters in treatment and distributed overdose rescue kits that have helped to save 67 lives.
Q: What is the single biggest challenge facing the state?
A: Vermont has made real progress recovering from the Great Recession, doing so at a faster rate than many neighboring states. But, like in the rest of the country, that recovery has been too slow for the middle class and working Vermonters. We have work to do to strengthen the economic recovery in Vermont so all Vermonters have the economic security and quality of life they deserve.
We’re working to do just that. This past session I was proud to sign into law a bill to raise the minimum wage because no Vermonter who works full time should have to live in poverty.
Despite tough budget gaps brought on by the recession, I have balanced four consecutive budgets without raising income, sales or rooms and meals taxes on hardworking Vermonters because I know Vermonters don’t have extra money to spend. We’ve passed initiatives to allow Vermont kids to earn up to two years of free college to help families struggling with student loan debt. And our investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy are helping to lower energy bills and create jobs.
We have more work to do, including addressing the two biggest drags on our economy: the unsustainable rise in property taxes and health care costs. On both fronts we are already taking action. I am asking for another two-year term to continue the hard work we’ve started.
Q: What concerns do you hear most expressed from Vermonters?
A: While the trend is clear that we have one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates and thousands of new jobs have been created since 2011, there are still too many Vermonters who are struggling.
I hear from Vermonters who are concerned about property taxes, the rising cost of health care and being able to send their kids to college. We’re working hard to address those issues, and we’re making some progress. On property taxes, we’re forming partnerships with local school boards, select boards and communities to make local changes that will address declining enrollments and rising costs. When it comes to education reform, Montpelier cannot mandate a one-size-fits-all approach. Not only will it not work, it would cause chaos for our education system. These are our kids we’re talking about.
On health care, we’re working with the Green Mountain Care Board to change the way we pay for health care, moving from the current fee-for-service model that rewards quantity, to a more thoughtful outcomes-based model that rewards doctors and hospitals for quality. In the past two years, we’ve seen hospital budgets grow at the slowest rate in nearly four decades. There is more work to do, but we’re moving in the right direction.
And on college affordability, we’ve implemented programs that allow Vermont students to complete a full year of college while still in high school for no additional cost. Combined with the new Vermont Strong Scholars program, which allows students to get one additional free year of college, we’re making it so that Vermont kids who play their cards right can get up to two years of tuition free college. That’s a big deal.
Q: What would you list as the top three economic development initiatives you’ve accomplished?
A: When I came into office, we made expanding broadband Internet service to every part of Vermont a priority. Thanks to the hard work of many and an unprecedented public/private partnership, we’ve expanded broadband to 99 percent of Vermonters, and we have a plan in place for all remaining addresses.
• Our dedication to renewable energy in Vermont has created jobs, saved ratepayers money and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Per capita, Vermont has the most solar jobs in America. Vermont is showing that doing what is right for the planet can also save people money and create jobs.
• I worked with the legislature this year to create a multifaceted legislative package providing support for startup, expansion and retention of companies that offer good wages and a bright future for Vermonters. The law also creates the Vermont Strong Scholars Program, which encourages kids to go into high needs fields and will provide businesses with a pool of talent from which to hire from.
We also created the Vermont Enterprise Fund, which will allow us to move quickly to retain or attract good paying jobs, doubled the downtown tax credit and expanded TIF districts to help rebuild our downtowns, and doubled the Vermont Small Business Offering to drive more investment in our entrepreneurs and innovators, and increased VEDA’s entrepreneurial lending program.
I am proud of the work we did this session to spark economic development in unique ways, and we will build on this progress going forward.
Q: What are the last two books you’ve read, and the last two movies you’ve seen?
A: Books: “My Bondage and My Freedom” by Frederick Douglass? “To the Bone” by Sydney Lea.
Movies: “Mud”; “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga.”
Read Addison Independent senior reporter John Flower’s conversation with Gov. Shumlin here.
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