The following seven questions, along with a requested word limit, were asked of each local candidate for the Vermont House.
The questions are not repeated in the context of each candidate’s response, but are recalled by subject at the beginning of each answer.
Election Day is Nov. 4.
1) HEALTHCARE: The state’s Catamount Health plan is up and running, are you satisfied that it is meeting its goals and, if not, what additional steps should the state take to expand health care coverage? (Maximum 150 words.)
2) ELECTRICITY: The expiration of Vermont’s contracts with its two big electricity providers, Hydro-Quebec and Vermont Yankee, is looming. And there are concerns about re-licensing Yankee. What should Vermont do to meet its energy needs? (150 words.)
3) AGRICULTURE: What state-level supports and policies regarding family farms would you promote as a legislator? (150 words.)
4) PROPERTY TAXES: The idea of a property tax cap to limit the rise in school spending has been suggested, but such reductions in funds could diminish the quality of education in our schools over time. How do you solve that dilemma? (150 words.)
5) HEATING: Vermonters are worried about how they will pay to heat their homes and gas up their cars this winter. What can the Legislature and state government do to help? (150 words.)
6) ECONOMY: State government is cutting back as tax revenues fall short of expectations. What can state government do to improve the Vermont economy? (150 words.)
7) SINGLE ISSUE: Discuss an issue of importance to you that you would work to address if elected. (100 words.)
Will Stevens and John Hill are the candidates for the seat in the Addison-Rutland-1 district, which includes Orwell, Shoreham, Whiting and Benson.
HEALTH CARE: The goal should be affordable access to health care services for everyone, in a system where services can be provided without losing money. Catamount may be a step toward that goal, and any assessment of Catamount should include how many enrollees have dropped private insurance in order to qualify.
Basic health care coverage for everyone in Vermont creates a large pool that spreads the risk over more people. It would eliminate the debate over where and when the need for coverage occurred. It doesn’t matter to me whether we have a system similar to Dr. Deb Richter’s public-private partnership proposal, or expanded “portability” options which would result in more competition among private insurers. What does matter is that people who make healthy choices realize some sort of reward or incentive, and that providers receive a fair return. Piecemeal approaches to solving the health care situation (including workers’ compensation) represent nibbling around the edges, and bolder steps are needed at both the federal and state levels, sooner than later.
ELECTRICITY: One aspect of our legislative challenge will be to weigh rate increases against available sources of power generation. This will include an examination of where our base load needs will come from, whether from Vermont Yankee, Hydro Quebec, or some other source. However, electricity costs will go up, whatever the source, since the price will be determined to some extent by the cost of spot market replacement power.
Our response needs to continue aggressive conservation and efficiency efforts, which, while not enough to cover our base load needs, are critical to flattening the demand curve. Other efforts that can feed the grid and contribute to energy self-sufficiency include the development of decentralized power supply systems such as wind, solar, and hydro, “smart” meters that give customers the ability to use power judiciously and avoid peak load periods, efficient heating and lighting systems and weatherization efforts, and net metering incentives for “alternative” power producers.
AGRICULTURE: Vermont should have a viable agricultural sector in the year 2100 and beyond. To that end, we need to ensure that the infrastructure exists to support whatever form “farming” takes on. The broad infrastructure list includes: bricks and mortar items (such as slaughterhouses and processing facilities), workforce development, (including occupational training programs in our high schools and career centers), market development, a unified and clear regulatory environment, and supportive land use policies.
Specific programs such as Farm to School (which links schools with nearby farms) should continue to be funded, and the Agency of Agriculture’s mobile processing units (for poultry and fruits and vegetables) should be evaluated for effectiveness.
We were successful last session in creating market opportunities for producers of non-commodity crops, and we addressed some of the cost control needs of our dairy farmers. This effort will continue, and I anticipate tackling issues such as unclear and confusing regulatory overlap, workers’ compensation costs, biomass and biofuel production, and on-farm livestock slaughter.
PROPERTY TAXES: One of the challenges of defining “quality of education” lies in identifying successful outcomes. That said, the amount of money raised by property taxes to pay for education is but one of the many factors influencing the quality of education. Parental support, nutritious meals, safe and welcoming environments, and flexibility to address a variety of learning styles are a few others. The level of pain people feel with regard to property tax payments for school funding is to some degree related to their sense of investment in the product.
School boards are accountable to the people who elected them, and their budgets are voted up or down annually. They take in the needs and interests of students, taxpayers, teachers, and administrators when they develop their budgets, and balance them against regulatory requirements and fixed costs over which they have little, if any control. As fiscal agents of the community, I trust school boards to act responsibly.
HEATING: Short term, we can make sure that the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds get to those in need as efficiently and quickly as possible. Long term, it would be helpful to view the LIHEAP funds as a one time “gift” that will buy time to develop long term policies that aren’t reliant on emergency funds for predictable and recurring situations such as cold winters and rising fossil fuel prices.
For existing homes, weatherization improvements should be promoted, including insulation installation, furnace upgrades and maintenance, and the use of alternative fuels. Loan or grant packages could leverage the money spent on such improvements against long term savings in fuel costs.
For new homes, buyers should demand that dwellings be designed, built, and sited in a way that maximizes passive energy gain as much as possible. Towns could, through planning and zoning, incentivize thoughtful, forward-looking residential development, while the state could explore tax policies that rewards “good behavior” as it pertains to lowered ongoing energy requirements.
ECONOMY: Vermont has three major assets: its people, its image, and its natural resources. Our economic future may depend on utilizing these assets in a way that will essentially import dollars from out of state, which will then circulate within the state for as long as possible. Historic examples of this include tourism, farming, recreation, and the production of value-added agricultural and forestry products. A future example could be an educated workforce that provides on-line services through a state-of-the-art telecommunications system.
We need to send clear signals about what we want for business in Vermont. Dueling regulatory oversight and conflicting objectives are not helpful to Vermont’s businesses, and unenforced regulations detract from what might otherwise be desirable objectives. It leads to criticism about unfairness, selective enforcement, high costs, and the perception of over-regulation, which in turn leads to skepticism and cynicism about government’s role in economic development.
SINGLE ISSUE: Looking ahead, successful agriculture in Vermont may have a very different look to it. As it responds to new markets and societal demands, it will move into new areas such as biomass and biofuel production, composting manufacture, and power generation. I worry that these laudable efforts will be stymied by competing regulatory interests. The essence of farming involves using land to convert solar energy to a different form that can be used by animals. We need to have a regulatory system that will permit farms and managed land use to evolve as the range of farm-raised and forest products diversifies.