Add-4 Candidate Fred Baser Q & A
HEALTH CARE: Since the early 1990s Vermont state government has regularly added mandates and changed regulations in health care. The Affordable Care Act, a federal program, has added to this mix in recent years. The effect has increased the number of insured Vermonters from about 90 percent in the early 1990s to 96 percent today. In the same time period we went from having lower health care costs than the national average to costs that are now about 12 percent above the national average. I am uncertain if the quality of care has changed or not. My instincts say to slow down on the initiatives, have the Green Mountain Care Board, our regulatory body, control health care inflation, let’s deal with Health Connect, and live with what we have for a while in order to evaluate what works and what doesn’t.
SCHOOLS: Investing in higher education for our young adults is investing in our future. There are three steps that I would put forward to prepare students for life beyond high school and improve the financial situation Vermont students face in paying for post-secondary education. First, establish a plan to increase state government’s contribution to our colleges and university as I have been advocating for some time. Second, we should emphasize vocational education for our students. Third, we should make sure Vermonters are up to speed on the various loan and loan forgiveness programs already available to them.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: To grow jobs and our tax base we need a comprehensive economic development plan with a commitment by the administration and legislative leaders to ensure the building blocks of economic development are strong. The plan starts by evaluating the state’s strengths and weaknesses by region. We then play on the strengths with a focused story appealing to possible new employers. At the same time we want to understand our existing job base. Existing employers are the best source of future growth. The building blocks for growth that always deserve our attention include a strong public education system, an up to date infrastructure (roads, rail, airports, high-speed Internet, and cell service), housing, recreation and cultural opportunities, availability of capital, good labor force, and a fair expeditious permitting process. Lastly we need to be careful about passing laws that have the unintended consequence of hurting businesses. Little additional dollars would be required to move ahead with the economic development plan. It is more a question of bringing the components that already exist, together.
OPIATE ADDICTION: How do we best deal with the opiate problem? Here are five thoughts. First we need to educate our youth on the dangers of opiates. This education should be done with vigor and on a multi-media basis. Second offer treatment to those that are addicted. The state-wide Turning Point program is a good example of efforts in this area. Third reduce the incarceration rates of the addicted. Kicking the habit and changing lifestyle is hard in prison. Offer job and life skills training to those that have quit. Finally make sure we enforce the state’s new law on minimizing the prescription of opiates. Prescription opiates are part of the problem.
RENEWABLE ENERGY: Last spring we passed a bill which gives communities that have developed an energy plan, consistent with the states goals, substantial deference in siting decisions with in their town. To receive this substantial deference towns must develop an energy plan and the plan must be in sync with the states ‘goals. How much input will towns really have? Only time will tell. The Public Service Board, the regulating body that makes all citing decisions, will be tested as town energy plans unfold. Let’s see what happens.
AGRICULTURE: The policies and practices are already in place to foster a healthy ag community and water quality improvements. The Farm to Plate program established in 2009 is an excellent example of an innovative way we can assist economic development in agriculture and at the same time focus on environmental nutrient management. The USDA just recently awarded a $1.2 million Conservation Innovation grant for farm manure management. Vermont Farm and Forest Viability program is issuing $65,000 worth of grants to farms for on farm water quality improvements. Methane to energy is happening on many farms. The extension service is encouraging manure injection, winter cover crop planting, and field tiling to control run off. The ag community is plugged into and knows what to do about the phosphorus problem, and the tools are there to support the effort.
CANDIDATE’S CHOICE: I see four issues that deserve attention in the coming session. They are: reduce our reliance on the property tax to fund public education, a thoughtful and effective economic development strategy, a housing program for middle income Vermonters, and development of ethical standards for the legislature. These are big jobs. Yet the education funding formula screams for more transparency. Economic growth accompanied by a growing tax base makes Vermont a little more affordable for us all. Quality housing for Vermonters making $50,000 to $75,000 is not easy to find in many areas of Vermont. Let’s kick- start building units for these people. We are one of three states that don’t have ethical standards for legislators. We make laws that impact Vermonter’s conduct; we should have them for our own conduct.
MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION: Depends.