Zuckerman lays out his bid for lieutenant governor
MIDDLEBURY — Sen. Dave Zuckerman, a Progressive and Democrat from Hinesburg, is traveling throughout the state in his first bid for statewide office, and he knows his way around. While he’s spent the past 18 years representing folks in Chittenden County, he’s made a habit of logging a lot of miles to better pollinate his ideas on marriage equality, the economy and taxation.
“I have kept one foot in the building, and another out in the state,” Zuckerman said during a visit with the Addison Independent on Monday.
Zuckerman, a 45-year-old farmer, is competing against former Franklin County state Sen. Randy Brock in the race to succeed current Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who is running for governor.
Zuckerman graduated from the University of Vermont in 1995 with a degree in Environmental Studies. He has been involved in farming since 1994, and spent three years (1996-1998) working at Shoreham’s Golden Russet Farm, owned by Will and Judy Stevens.
It was in 2008 that Zuckerman and his spouse, Rachel Nevitt, founded Full Moon Farm, a NOFA-certified, organic farm in Hinesburg that employs up to 14 seasonal workers. They also run a farm stand at the Burlington Farmers Market.
Zuckerman believes a career in agriculture has given him solid perspective on running a small business and understanding the daily challenges that Vermont farmers routinely face — including the declining milk prices.
Farmers, by necessity, must aspire to efficiency, common sense and frugality.
“Being a farmer means being both a planner and a problem-solver,” Zuckerman said. “Every day on the farm something goes awry, and you’ve got to figure out how to get through that moment, and then avoid that pitfall in the future. There are always more efficiencies to be found, but there are often not enough dollars to do it.”
It’s a philosophy that he said he has tried to bring to state government.
Zuckerman is now in his fourth year in the Vermont Senate, where he serves as vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture. Prior to that, he served for 14 years in the Vermont House representing the city of Burlington in the Chittenden 3-4 district. During that time, he served stints on the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, Agriculture Committee and Ways and Means Committee. During his legislative career, Zuckerman has taken a particular interest in such issues as renewable energy, affordable housing, livable wages, cannabis reform, GMO legislation, universal health care, progressive taxation, marriage equality and end-of-life choices, according to his campaign website.
During a wide-ranging interview on Monday, Zuckerman vowed to continue working on those issues if elected lieutenant governor.
“As lieutenant governor, there’s a real opportunity to visit with different agencies and state employees and ask them, ‘What’s working and not working, and how can we make things better for the consumer?’ — which is every constituent in Vermont,” Zuckerman said.
He believes Act 46, which prompts school districts to consolidate governance, will make things better for Vermonters. Zuckerman supported the bill, which directs supervisory unions throughout the state to merge their governance structures as a way of promoting more efficiencies and resource sharing among individual schools. Locally, the Addison Central, Addison Northwest and Rutland Northeast supervisory unions have approved governance mergers. Addison Northeast voters in Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro will consider such a referendum on Nov. 8.
Zuckerman believes Act 46 will help smaller schools stay open in this era of declining enrollment, as the new education districts could transform individual schools into special learning academies. But he acknowledged some Vermonters’ concerns that having one board govern multiple schools (as opposed to separate boards) might reduce local control. He also noted the impact that Act 46 will have on towns with school choice, where students will now be assigned a district.
Zuckerman contends the Legislature will be able to make changes to Act 46 to assuage the local control and school choice concerns.
“I don’t think we should throw out Act 46, but we do have to make adjustments so districts can maintain choice,” he said. “When you pass significant legislation (like Act 46), you try to make the adjustments you need to make, learn the hurdles and problems and let it go for a couple of years.”
Vermont’s schools, Zuckerman said, could open their doors to other services to benefit students.
“Our teachers are being asked in this day and age to also be social workers,” Zuckerman said, noting the result is that mounting social services-related costs for children are being paid through the property tax (schools), as opposed to general fund taxes. This presented a bigger financial burden for local property owners, he said.
“I have been really hammering on how to break down the silos between human services agencies, the contracts with independent agencies, and our schools,” Zuckerman said.
With that in mind, Zuckerman wants state government to consider moving some of its regional human services officials into area schools to more conveniently deliver services to students and families, thereby relieving teachers of this responsibility. He noted many Vermont schools have surplus space due to declining enrollment, so creating some office space for human services officials shouldn’t be a problem, he said.
“We can get seniors involved as mentors, and use the dining facilities to help people get healthier meals,” he added.
Zuckerman said he’s a big supporter of renewable energy projects as a way of reducing Vermont’s carbon footprint and its dependency on fossil fuels. While he believes towns should have a bigger say in how solar arrays and other projects are sited, Zuckerman argued that it is in society’s best interest to pave the way for more renewable energy.
“If there are two overarching issues of our time, one is economic injustice and the other is our climate,” Zuckerman said. “We have created this (climate change) problem over 150 years … We have to be better than carbon-neutral; we have to be putting less carbon out there.”
That means ramping up green energy projects in the state, according to Zuckerman. He believes the renewable energy industry and community planners can work together to mitigate the visual impacts of solar arrays and wind turbines. But in the meantime, Zuckerman said developers must work within the “realities” of siting these projects as affordably as possible. And that often means near roads where three-phase power connections are available, he said.
The Vermont Public Service Board current presides over permit review for renewable energy projects, though the panel (thanks to a new state law) must give “substantial deference” to the siting concerns of towns with state-certified energy plans that dovetail with the Vermont’s renewable energy objectives.
“When I see turbines or solar fields, they don’t aesthetically displease me,” Zuckerman said.
“You can’t make everyone happy.”
PROPERTY TAX REFORM
Zuckerman supports a bill filed this past session by Sen. Anthony Pollina, P-Washington County, that would base one’s school property taxes on income. Right now, state law allows a property owner earning less than $90,000 to either pay a tax based on the value of their homestead (house and two acres), or approximately 3 percent of their income — whichever is less.
Having all property taxpayers pay based on income would yield an additional $82 million for the state’s education fund and provide relief for those currently struggling to afford their tax bills, according to supporters.
The Legislature put together a study committee to better evaluate the bill (S.175), and more details should be known by this January, according to Zuckerman.
“The data will reveal whether we can create that tax shift so working people aren’t as burdened by the education costs as they are now,” Zuckerman said.
Zuckerman supports the legalization of marijuana, as a home-grown, regulated substance that he believes could generate additional revenues for drug treatment programs, education, law enforcement, higher education and various capital projects throughout the state — such as broadband infrastructure. A state-commissioned report suggested the sale of legalized marijuana could net $25 million to $75 million in annual revenues, according to Zuckerman.
“From both a health and youth-access perspective, I think it’s the right idea to bring it above-board and regulate it,” Zuckerman said. “My bill would bring 80 percent of the underground, above-ground.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].