Editorial: Sue Minter has foresight next governor needs
Vermont is fortunate to have two qualified, rational, good-humored, honest and articulate candidates running for governor. Both Republican Phil Scott and Democrat Sue Minter would serve the state well.
The two candidates do, however, have substantially different approaches to the role of government. Minter would have government actively work to meet the state’s ever-evolving challenges while keeping expenses in check. Scott advocates the classic Republican mantra of minimizing the role of government with a stricter rein on spending and a pledge to not spend more than the growth in revenue.
Both approaches make sense, but let’s look closer at some issues that will likely dominate the next governor’s tenure:
• Opioid addiction: If the state is to get a handle on the ongoing drug addiction crisis, it will need to continue spending on increased law enforcement efforts, mental health support and addiction therapies to get those hooked on opiates off that doomed train. And it’s not an issue we can postpone until sunnier economic times. If we don’t solve it now, the problem gets worse, local communities suffer, economic hardship spreads and solutions will only be more expensive in the future. Minter’s plan continues to fight the battle head on.
• Increased pre-school and childcare funding: The state has recently expanded subsidized pre-Kindergarten education (3-5 year olds) to 10 hours per week with experts pushing for more hours in the future. Why? Because the evidence is indisputable that early childhood education is the best foundation to assure success throughout primary and secondary school and into college. Minter would continue such funding and expand it where she could; Scott says he agrees with putting money into early education but his caveat is that he might be hamstrung by his proposed budget cap.
• Reducing post-secondary student debt: This is a nation-wide problem that keeps getting worse as colleges and universities cut state aid and depend more and more on tuition to pay the bills. The Shumlin’s administration got a good start on this issue, but more needs to be done; Minter pledges to pick up the issue and press forward.
• Clean-up of Lake Champlain: Under pressure from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the state agreed to a multi-million dollar cleanup program for Lake Champlain under Act 64 (passed in 2015), but more is needed. Both Minter and Scott are big advocates of the outdoors and preserving a clean and healthy environment; Minter’s plan, however, allows for more flexibility to address lake clean up costs.
• Gun laws: Minter has taken a courageous stand by advocating for reasonable gun laws, including requiring a criminal background check for all gun sales, and a ban on military-style assault rifles. Both measures would not limit the freedom of Vermonters to own or purchase guns for hunting or reasonable protection, but would make the state safer from mass shootings and from the all-too-frequent killings related to domestic violence.
• Renewable energy and climate change: Both candidates support renewable energy, but Minter also supports wind energy, and is the greater advocate for continuing a state policy pushing renewable energy as a job creator. Scott is not a climate change denier, he says, but is less eager to embrace an activist approach. Scott has also objected to further wind development on ridgelines, while Minter advocates for the development of all renewable sources of energy, with proper planning for siting and development. Scott is also in support of continuing the natural gas pipeline into Addison County and on down to Rutland, while Minter is opposed to further expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.
• Job growth: Whether the proposals are tax incentives to grow jobs, job training, or incentives to locate in Vermont, encouraging job growth is not a zero-cost game. We have to invest in our future if we want to grow. Both candidates say they want to promote job growth, but voters need to ask which budget plan has the flexibility to do actually do it?
With those issues in mind, it’s also helpful to think of both candidates as if you were going to hire a CEO for a business with 8,000-plus employees and $5.1 billion in annual revenue. You’d want to look at the competitive environment and consider how to grow, short-term as well as long-term, while also fulfilling the most critical public services.
Scott would be a disciplined CEO who would bring a rigorous and prudent approach to budgeting. Furthermore, he is right to champion a two-year budget cycle that would force the Legislature to longer-term planning and provide state agencies more consistency and less interference in their work. We’re also confident he would create a loyal team that would work to achieve greater efficiencies. But Scott’s budget-centric mission would also restrict his ability to adequately address today’s core challenges.
Minter’s approach, on the other hand, is to use the state’s budget authority to get the biggest bang for the buck. By leveraging the state’s double-A bond rating, for example, she would borrow money at low interest rates to make infrastructure improvements that create more jobs that stimulate the state’s economy and boosts the state’s coffers.
Minter also understands that to get things done in state government, you have to propose specific ideas. She knows, for instance, that if the state is going to attract telecommuters, we must set timelines to achieve better cellphone coverage and broadband connectivity. She knows we have to follow through on cleaning up our state waters and has pledged to work with ANR and the EPA to re-establish a great fishery in Lake Champlain and promote it as the tourist destination it should be; and she recognizes that Vermont’s vibrant outdoor industry could produce hundreds of jobs if the state placed a focus on it. To that end, she says she will appoint an outdoor recreation administrator to create jobs in that sector.
Minter’s specificity is notably different from Scott’s plan, which often suffers from vague platitudes and a lack of specific ideas or proposals. Scott has been able to help lead a mid-size earth moving construction business by setting a good example, by working hard, and running a frugal shop. But managing a state government of 8,000 people is a different scale, and requires more than a mantra of being frugal and finding efficiencies. To the state’s bureaucracy, that’s the same-ole, same-ole they’ve heard time and time again. What motivates them is the chance to pursue a good idea; to implement new innovations; to create new efficiencies. And like any business that generates $5.1 billion annually, we all know the state cannot afford to sit still; it has to innovate and be constantly evolving or jobs, and the laborers to fill them, will move elsewhere.
Sue Minter has the imagination needed to create best practices and generate good ideas across state government. She also has the enthusiasm and energy to motivate others to make those plans come to fruition, and she won’t be content with simply maintaining the status quo. Vermonters need a governor who is quick on their feet with a strategy that is as flexible as it is frugal, and who understands what’s coming next and moves the state in that direction in time to reap the benefits of foresight.
If given the opportunity, Sue Minter would be such a governor.
— Angelo S. Lynn
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