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Candidate Q&A: Addison-2

PETER CONLON

ADDISON COUNTY — All of Addison County’s incumbent state senators and representatives will run for re-election Nov. 3, and many challengers have stepped up to make sure there will be competition for the two state Senate seats representing Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore, as well as in five of the county’s six House districts.
In Addison-2 (Cornwall, Goshen, Hancock, Leicester, Ripton, Salisbury) incumbent Rep. Peter Conlon is running unopposed. His answers to the questions follow:
 
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PETER CONLON
1. Economy: In the competition to attract business with financial incentives, Vermont cannot compete, yet we spend millions each year on schemes that probably pay few dividends. But as the last six months have shown us, we have an unmatched quality of life that attracts people who start businesses. Quality of life is the asset Vermont needs to protect, and investing in homegrown businesses at the start is where whatever funds we can devote should go. There are also two areas that deserve support but are rarely considered “pro-business,” though they are: quality affordable child care and quality affordable healthcare. These are better investments than paying large corporations millions when they threaten to move.
2. School outcomes: If we are talking about the K-12 system, we need to educate kids to be critical thinkers, excellent communicators and quality citizens through the academic subjects they study. That is what I hear employers say they need as baseline skills. The job-specific skills can follow. While I strongly support a robust career and technical education system in Vermont for students and adults — let’s expose kids to the programs earlier — I also believe that skills training remains a prime responsibility for employers, as has been a long tradition in our country. I also support a strong state college system that is responsive to the higher-level-skills needs in Vermont, including non-degree programs and apprenticeships.
3. School consolidation: Act 46 has led to governance unification in most Vermont school systems, but the determination of benefits and costs of consolidation of schools is best left where it is — in the community of towns that make up each school system. The state currently acts as a resource of information and provides funding. The cost/benefit question is complex and best addressed to local conditions. Most folks are well aware of the debate. At the state level, however, the challenge is equitable funding and how much is too much when it comes to education spending. Our current system lets communities decide how much to spend, but the state — all of us — must fund those decisions. The result is a statewide system where low-spending communities pay taxes that subsidize the higher spending communities that are often better resourced anyway.  
4. Environment: Vermonters cannot take their attention from any one of these areas. We are making strong strides in water quality through investments in farming practices, municipal treatment and regulation. We can’t relax as those efforts are, hopefully, starting to pay dividends. Meanwhile, the threat that climate change poses has been made more real with the wildfires in the west, hurricanes that batter the coasts, searing heat, and even drought conditions in Vermont. Preparing for the impact of climate change was a main focus of the Global Warming Solutions Act. That work must continue. Maintaining open or undeveloped land has been a strong interest. Vermont’s Current Use system continues to be a good, though expensive, tool, but so are smaller efforts I have advocated such as increased support for the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Fund, which assists farm and forestry businesses.
5. Healthcare: Since Vermont opted not to take on single-payer healthcare several years ago, the options to address healthcare at the state level in a meaningful way have narrowed. I support our current efforts with the Affordable Care Organization model. Unfortunately, that model is suffering from a lack of participation. I support policies that would incentivize two large groups to become part of the ACO — the state teachers’ union and the state employees union. These two groups could make the ACO a success in Vermont and a model nationwide. Ultimately, healthcare needs a national solution and providing a public option for those of us on the health exchanges would be a meaningful step toward government proving it can manage healthcare in an affordable way.
6. Agriculture: Dairy is the backbone of agriculture in Vermont and an integral part of our identity as a state. But it is an industry that is at the mercy of global influences, from tariffs to changing tastes. And the dairy industry deals in financial numbers that exceed Vermont’s ability to do much. We must, however, continue to financially assist farms in areas where we can — in transitioning to practices that not only protect the environment but improve it, supporting farm-to-school programs, providing technical expertise, and continuing the Current Use Program. It really comes down to funding more than new laws. A working landscape is an asset to all Vermonters, and that means support must come from us all.
7. Candidate’s Choice: It is time for Vermont to seriously consider expanding public school — kindergarten, really — to four-year-olds, and creating a much broader subsidy program for childcare for younger children. The needs of modern society have evolved to a point where the need for a stronger system of early education and childcare is clear. Our current pre-K system of insufficient vouchers has left many folks behind due to their childcare needs. Meanwhile, the benefits of a strong early education program — starting at age four — can launch kids into success in later grades, and stronger state support for quality child care for infants and toddlers can do even more to promote that success.

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