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Lincoln’s Forlenza to run for Vt. House

LINCOLN — Paul Forlenza has spent the past several years supporting and recruiting Addison County Democrats to run for county and statewide offices.
The longtime Lincoln resident is now ready to place his own name on an election ballot.
Forlenza, former chairman of the Addison County Democratic Committee, confirmed last week he’ll run for one of the two seats representing the Addison-4 district in the Vermont House.
Addison-4 includes the towns of Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton and Starksboro. The district is currently represented by two Bristol residents: Democrat Dave Sharpe and Republican Fred Baser.
“Lincoln has been kind to my family and me and I want to give back to the community,” Forlenza said in a Monday interview. “I would be honored to serve my neighbors in the state Legislature.”
This is Forlenza’s second run for the state Legislature, and he hopes it has a happier ending than his first bid back in 2004. In that year, Forlenza finished third in a four-person Democratic primary for the party’s two ballot slots for state Senate. Incumbent Sen. Claire Ayer of Addison finished first, with 2,408 votes, followed by former state Sen. Harold Giard of Bridport, who received 1,113 tallies. Forlenza finished out of the running with 967 votes, followed by Lynn Saunders, with 649.
Forlenza knew he would make another attempt this November to join the county’s legislative delegation, but he didn’t want to run against Ayer and Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven.
“I think Sens. Ayer and Bray are very important assets for Addison County,” Forlenza said, noting both hold leadership positions. Ayer chairs the Senate Health & Welfare Committee, while Bray leads the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee.
That left the Addison-4 House district. He’d like to join fellow Democrat Sharpe in Montpelier for the 2019-2020 biennium.
“(The House) seemed like a better fit for me this time around,” Forlenza said.
“I’m not, per se, running against Fred (Baser),” Forlenza added. “I just want to put my issues out there and if voters are attracted to that, I’ll do OK.”
Forlenza believes he has gained an even better understanding of local constituents’ needs since his last Statehouse bid. He currently serves on the Lincoln selectboard, and is responsible for developing the community’s annual budget. The task has required him to become more educated on how to build a municipal spending plan and how state finances — such as assistance for roads maintenance — enter into the equation.
Keeping property tax increases to a minimum has been a top priority, according to Forlenza.
“I’m proud that the Lincoln selectboard has limited town budget increases to 1-percent annually for the last four years, despite a significant increase in health care premiums,” he said.
Forlenza at times interacts with municipal officials in the three other Addison-4 towns, thereby allowing him to pick up on any common issues or problems that could use attention in the Statehouse.
‘FAMILY ECONOMY’
While the General Election is still around nine months away, Forlenza has already started asking Addison-4 residents and business owners to name the issues they believe the Legislature should prioritize. As one might expect, reducing health care costs, creating more jobs and lowering property taxes are tops on many residents’ wish lists for legislative action. All of those issues affect families. Not coincidentally, Forlenza has made “improving the family economy” the primary plank in his 2018 campaign platform.
“It seems to me that families are the ones that are stressed,” Forlenza said. “There is no national consensus on what families need and there is no focus on the state or national level on a ‘family economy.’”
Forlenza believes the family economy needs to be jumpstarted with the following initiatives:
•  Finding a new way to finance health care. He supports universal access to health care for all Vermonters, and vowed to be a voice for increased funding for mental health and drug addiction.
He believes he has the background to be an effective problem-solver when it comes to health care issues.
Forlenza ran his own consulting firm developing strategic plans for nonprofits. He spent 15 years helping IBM on various policy issues — including health care. He has also spent time advocating for the use of health information technology as a way to advance health care reform. Forlenza has previously served on the boards of Mountain Health Center in Bristol and the Counseling Services of Addison County.
•  Offering paid family leave.
“We need to be able to take care of our babies when they are born, and also for our elderly,” Forlenza said.
•  Establishing a “livable wage’ of $15 per hour by 2024. He doesn’t believe the new hourly wage will have a big impact on businesses if it is properly phased in.
•  Improving access to high-quality, affordable childcare. Forlenza reasoned childcare availability is one of the keys to allowing parents to enter — and remain — in the workforce.
•  Lowering property taxes and decreasing state tax on Social Security. Forlenza said he’s intrigued by an effort under way in the House Ways & Means Committee to fund public education through an income tax. Education is currently funded mainly through the property tax. Supporters of an education income tax have said such a transition must result in a corresponding decrease in property taxes.
Forlenza acknowledged the aforementioned “family economy” priorities will cost money, and he promised to work on financing options for his ideas as the campaign progresses. Progress will require a greater financial commitment from individuals, businesses and state/federal government, he acknowledged.
Vermont, Forlenza believes, must proceed with federally mandated plans to clean up its state waterways — Lake Champlain, in particular. He believes the cleanup is a matter of public health as well as environmental necessity, and supports Sen. Bray’s recent call for a per-parcel fee to help the state pay for its annual $30 million share the $2.6 billion lake/waterways cleanup effort during the next 20 years.
Forlenza lives in Lincoln with his partner, Kathleen Kolb. They each have two adult children. More information about the candidate can be found at forlenza.us.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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