STATE BUDGET: We are facing the budget shortfalls we have because of how much we spend and also because the recession’s damage to the economy has reduced revenues. Because increasing taxes could only undermine the economy further, tax increases should only be a last resort, and I believe we can balance the budget without tax increases. We should build on Challenges for Change and continue to examine state spending, asking whether the state really needs specific programs and activities, and if they are needed, are there ways to get the results we want at a lower cost?
EDUCATION FUNDING: For the first time I have been hearing loud and clear from my constituents that it is time to re-examine our educational system’s costs. The fact that education spending continues to increase dramatically even as the number of students declines is a growing problem, as is the fact that we have very high property taxes. Everyone supports quality education, but we need to be serious and honest with Vermont parents and taxpayers about what is really necessary to maintain quality in our schools. Class size, the number of schools, administrative structure, teacher benefits and cost sharing, and other areas all need to be on the table for an open examination.
ENERGY: I am a member of the 25x25 alliance; our goal is to produce 25 percent of Vermont’s energy needs from new affordable renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro, solar, methane, geothermal and conservation by the year 2025. Over the last six years we have made some headway toward this goal but we need time to make this transition possible. During this transition time we need a reliable source of electricity. If the responsible federal authorities determine that Vermont Yankee can continue to operate safely then the Vermont Legislature should allow the Public Service Board, which has the expertise and responsibility for making decisions on complex economic, environmental, and scientific issues like this, to weigh all the evidence and decide whether or not to grant a Certificate of Public Good for Yankee to continue to operate in the best interests of Vermonters.
AGRICULTURE: I was the lead sponsor on the Farm Viability Enhancement Program, which is currently addressing this question. But more is needed including additional risk capital sources (the EB5 visa program), new mentoring programs for young people interested in agriculture; better ways to help in the transition of farms from one generation to the next; ways to assist in identifying new products and markets for those products; ways to build upon the interest in local and regional foods. The purchase of development rights has helped, but it is not enough by itself.
HEALTH CARE: Expanding government health care can miss the point on the real problem, which is cost, and just replacing high premiums with high taxes is not the answer. We should focus on continuing public health education, consumer information on costs and effectiveness of treatment options, support for preventive and chronic care, and flexible insurance options like HSAs that give people both the incentives and the power to manage their health better and more affordably. Allow competition in health care insurance across state lines.
JOBS: We are within a day’s drive of over 60 million people. Thus there is the ability to attract businesses to the state. High-speed Internet, broadband and wireless will be important.
We need to be aggressive at the local, and state level in attracting these and other types of green businesses that contribute to our economy. In agriculture we have some recent examples in Commonwealth Yogurt in Brattleboro and Swan Valley Cheese in Swanton. We need incentives, tax policy, work force training, and permit reform to bring jobs back to our area.