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.)
The four candidates running for the two seats in the Addison-4 district — which includes the towns of Bristol, Monkton, Lincoln and Starksboro — are Michael Fisher, John “Peeker” Heffernan, Barbara Rainville and David Sharpe. Heffernan chose not to respond to the Independent’s questions.
HEALTHCARE: The current economic crisis is the back-drop for every question asked this year. There will be tough decisions. The slowing of the economy will present challenges for state and local decision makers in dealing with each of the areas that the Addison Independent has asked about this year.
It is clear that the Catamount, VHAP and Dr. Dynasaur programs are an important part of providing access to health care for many Vermonters. It is also clear that many Vermonters are priced out or locked out of that access. Vermont families and businesses are struggling to survive year after year of double digit rate increases.
Part of the problem with our health insurance system is that we are divided into many small, segmented risk groups. We must come together into a common risk group if we are going to make health care affordable for small businesses, workers and families in today’s economy.
Recent events in the national and world markets expose the shortsightedness of proposals that are based on the failures of our current insurance system. While our current system of paying for health care works for some, it leaves out far too many and is far too expensive.
ELECTRICITY: This topic is one of my biggest frustrations. The expiration of these contracts and the reality that any new contracts will be much closer to current market rates, will amount to higher bills for Vermonters. I am convinced that we could have made investments a few years ago into new and existing power generation opportunities and reduced the financial hit that everyone recognizes is around the corner. There have been missed opportunities.
The answer to this problem will require many solutions. If we want our lights to go on when we flip the switch, and we want Vermont to be affordable, than the state must invest today in efficiencies and in the many opportunities for electric generation available to us.
AGRICULTURE: As I talk to people around our community, I often hear, “I would pay a little more for milk if I knew it would help the farmer.” We value the heritage of living in a farming community.
While we actively pursue all available leads to protect our dairy farms, we must also help farmers who chose to diversify to viable alternatives.
We also have an opportunity to produce profitable crops by supporting the creation of a bio-fuels industry here in Vermont. This will take some real leadership and investments in helping farmers and business leaders to develop these opportunities.
PROPERTY TAXES: Our locally elected school boards and our school administrators have a very difficult task to build a budget each year that both supports the best schools possible, and lives within the taxpayers means. There are mandates and costs that are far outside their control. I will continue to resist ideas like a one-size fits all property tax cap designed in Montpelier. It may work fine for one town but leave another with a greatly diminished ability to educate their students.
We must listen to the frustrations expressed by property tax payers and work to assure that people are asked to contribute a reasonable share of the cost of running our schools. We must also attack the cost drivers including health care, energy costs and personnel. These represent a significant part of the increase in school spending. I believe that there are real solutions to this problem.
HEATING: We must recognize the fear that many of our neighbors have about the economy and their ability to survive the coming winter. Families that used to feel comfortable, now recognize that an illness, a major car or home repair would put them under. Even with the cost of gas coming down, fuel costs are still a major component of the poor economy for many Vermont families.
I am very happy with our congressional delegation for their success in securing more funding for heating assistance for low-income families. Even with these added funds, there is still a question of how we will deal with the increasing needs. There has been a 10 percent increase in applications for fuel assistance this year. I am also very concerned about families that are just above the 125 percent of federal poverty level and are on fixed incomes.
We can and should assist families in making their homes more efficient to keep warm without putting them in more debt. We can and we should develop local energy generation opportunities.
ECONOMY: There is no doubt that this will be a difficult year for many families, and for local and state government budget builders. We must resist proposals that claim to be reductions in state spending, but in practice only push tax pressures back to the towns for maintaining roads, bridges, schools and other necessary services.
The problems in the national economy are out of our control and will have an effect on Vermonters. Despite this, there are opportunities here. We need to build on the creative entrepreneurial spirit that continues to thrive in Vermont. Vermont has positive qualities and assets that are attractive to many business interests. We can capitalize on the Vermont brand in new ways. This will require real leadership from the Governors office.
SINGLE ISSUE: I have been at this for a few campaigns now. I have never, and will never send out campaign materials that attack my opponent’s motives or even challenge their beliefs. Instead, I have always believed that Vermonters want me to talk about what I have to offer. It is unfortunate that others don’t seem to recognize that negative campaigning, while it may activate their supporters, only turns most voters off.
The most satisfying work in the Vermont Statehouse occurs in committee out of the spotlight of controversial issues. I am proud of the work my Human Services Committee has accomplished in the last biennium. We worked on protecting children who have been mistreated, supporting first responders and health care workers who have health care needs of their own, and protected elders who are struggling to live with dignity. I look forward to getting back to the table to continue to take important steps forward.