Dunne outlines formula for economic recovery
MIDDLEBURY — Hartland Democrat and gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne is pitching an economic recovery plan that he said would nurture growing businesses, create new jobs, weatherize aging apartment buildings and reduce the state’s carbon footprint, all at the same time.
Dunne shared his plan, and positions on other issues ranging from solar siting to health care, during a far-ranging interview at the Addison Independent on Thursday, May 5.
Dunne, 46, was born in New Haven, Conn., and was raised in Hartford, Vt., the son of lawyer and civil rights activist John Bailey Dunne and Dartmouth College professor Faith Weinstein Dunne. He was elected to the Vermont House at age 22, representing Hartford and West Windsor for eight years.
He was recruited by the Clinton administration to serve as director of AmeriCorps VISTA, a volunteer-driven poverty-fighting organization. He performed that job in Washington, D.C., for two-and-a-half years, then returned to Vermont in 2002, whereupon he was elected to the state Senate.
Dunne made unsuccessful statewide runs for lieutenant governor in 2006 (losing a close race to Republican Brian Dubie), and for governor in 2010, finishing fourth in a five-candidate Democratic primary.
It was after the 2006 election that Google hired Dunne to serve as its community affairs director, which he did from an office in White River Junction.
He recently stepped down from his Google job and is now one in a three-person field of Democrats vying for that party’s nomination for governor. He is competing againstTownsend Democrat Peter Galbraith, former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia and current state senator representing Windham County; and Waterbury Democrat Sue Minter, a former state lawmaker who most recently served as secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
The winner of the Democratic Primary will face the Republican Party nominee, which will be either current Lt. Gov. Phil Scott of Berlin, or Bruce Lisman, a Shelburne Republican and former Wall Street executive.
Dunne last week said one of his top priorities would be jumpstarting the Vermont economy.
“We’ve got to make some changes, because the direction we’re going in is not sustainable,” he said. “We have kids who are going homeless, we’ve got a 50-percent increase in the number of people in poverty in Bennington County, the number of business starts has not recovered since the recession.
“Places like the Northeast Kingdom that have been struggling for a long time and thought there was hope, turns out there were a bunch of crooks,” he added, referring to alleged corruption related to the federal EB-5 program and the Jay Peak and Q Burke ski resorts.
Dunne’s economic recovery plan calls for:
• A bonded “green jobs fund” of $100 million that would be tapped for energy efficiency improvements to apartment buildings throughout the state of Vermont.
He said the bond would be paid off over 20 years through an assessment on the aid recipients’ utility bills. Specifically, a portion (50 percent) of the energy cost savings would be used to pay debt service on the bond.
“We have an aging inventory of housing stock and there is no incentive for landlords to do efficiency improvements, because they pass on all the utility costs to the tenants,” Dunne said.
The green jobs fund, Dunne said, would generate more jobs in the energy efficiency industry, make apartment living more affordable, improve the comfort level in the improved units, and help reduce the state’s carbon footprint.
• Giving an entity — such as the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board or the Vermont Housing Authority — the ability to assess a property transfer tax fee and dedicate it to a revenue bond that would help finance affordable housing throughout the state.
“I think VHCB has been quite good at identifying priorities and where to make this investment happen,” Dunne said. “The biggest challenge they’ve had is not enough money to support the projects they know are necessary.”
• Providing more small business loans, with support services.
“It allows for a business to build assets, so that they are no longer one flat tire away from going back into poverty,” Dunne said.
He also acknowledged that Vermont will not make its business bones by “harpooning large corporations and dragging them in.”
Dunne stressed that for Vermont to completely fulfill its economic promise, the state must “deliver on the promise of the electricity of our time, which is broadband. Unfortunately, the mission is not accomplished.”
Dunne noted there are still many areas of the state that don’t have the broadband or cell phone coverage essential to making Vermont competitive in recruiting businesses and making itself a hub for telecommuters. He believes the state, with its quality of life, could become a magnet for telecommuters and economic development given its geographic proximity to the business hubs of Boston, New York and Montreal.
“We really should be shooting for 100 megabytes, symmetrically, and 20 at a minimum,” Dunne said of the broadband capacity goal for the state. “Some places (in Vermont) are dependent on satellite, or they can’t even get satellite.”
He is proposing three ways to address the state’s telecommunications deficiencies:
•A change in regulatory laws to allow for the use of utility poles “in an efficient way.”
“You make sure that people who want to deliver additional services can do it inexpensively and quickly,” Dunne said.
• Bond for fiber infrastructure that can be used by multiple providers.
• Expand opportunities for wireless telecommunications using the same medium that once delivered television service.
“There is something called ‘low frequency spectrum,’ which is basically how you used to get your UHF and VHF television; now everything is switched to digital,” Dunne said. “That capacity is still available.”
Dunne believes his experience in the tech world makes him the best candidate to deliver on broadband and telecommunications upgrades in the Green Mountain State.
“This is what I have been doing with my life,” he said. “If there is going to be a governor who could bring together the right group of people to move us from almost dead last to first in the nation, I think I would be that guy,” Dunne said. “It would also, I think, lead to us being the telecommuting capital of the world.”
HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
If elected, Dunne said he would seek to revisit a plan to establish a single-payer, universal health care system in Vermont. In the meantime, he believes the state cannot scrap its broken Vermont Health Connect (VHC) insurance exchange website and should ensure that all state residents have access to a primary care physician. He added the health care system should be rewarded based on patient outcomes, rather than by the number of medical procedures that are ordered.
“I’ve been on the board of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for the last three years and I am more confident than ever that we can actually achieve universal health care, because the providers know what we are doing right now isn’t working,” Dunne said. “The cost of health care in Vermont is going up $650,000 a day. There’s nothing sustainable about that.
“I’m a big believer in the capitalist system, but there are moments when the marketplace is broken,” he added.
Dunne believes his IT background would be an asset in trying to work the bugs out of the VHC website that he said has already cost $230 million. He asserted the state advisory board that laid the groundwork for VHC did not have any IT experts on it.
“I am hopeful that we will be able to fix the website and still be in control of our own destiny by having our own setup (rather than joining the federal health exchange),” Dunne said. “I believe we have to look (at VHC) and evaluate it.”
Dunne is a big advocate for renewable energy projects — the subject of much debate in Addison County, which has become a hub for the siting of solar projects. County residents closely followed solar siting legislation in the Statehouse this year, hoping for new rules that would give communities more input in how solar arrays are set up within their borders. As it stands, the Vermont Public Service Board has the power to approve or deny renewable energy projects that send power back into the state’s power grid.
“I would say that the aesthetic of the state of Vermont, if we increase the temperature significantly, is going to be a heck of a lot worse than having some solar panels in your viewshed,” Dunne said. “We need to be focused on that fact that climate change is real and that we need to be moving toward energy independence as quickly as we can.”
That said, Dunne said he favors involving communities more broadly in the solar siting permitting process, and favors offering incentives for locating arrays on rooftops and other less conspicuous areas than sprawling fields.
“We won’t always agree (on siting), but there can be a process for engagement,” Dunne said, citing his support for a regional planning process through which community officials, residents and business people might agree on where renewable energy projects would be best sited.
Dunne on Thursday also stressed the need for Vermont to ramp up its battle against drug addiction.
“It’s a huge deal,” he said. “All the other stuff we want to do is very difficult to do if we don’t address the heroin addiction problem.”
He suggested a four-pronged attack:
• More aggressive drug addiction prevention efforts in schools and communities.
• Placing “community organizers on the ground” in geographic areas where the drug problem is particularly acute.
• Increasing drug addiction treatment resources in the state.
• Eliminating what he called “the overprescribing” of opioid painkillers.
Dunne is not a huge fan of Act 46, the new state law that requires school districts to consolidate their governance and budgeting.
“There are a number of ways we should be addressing the costs of education,” Dunne said. “In any role I have ever been in, what I usually do when you’re trying to reduce costs is you get rid of overhead.”
With that in mind, Dunne asserted Vermont does “not need 60 superintendents for 78,000 kids.”
Along with administrative efficiencies, Dunne said he’d lobby for a global school payroll system for the entire state. He also believes in one electronic student records system, multi-age classes and distance learning as ways to cut education costs.
“The harm of jumping to consolidation is that you lose the sense of connection to the community and all of the engagement that comes along with that,” Dunne said. “And, you’ll have scenarios where kindergartners will have to commute an hour to get to school.”
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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