STATE BUDGET: I believe we need to keep Vermont the best place to live. In order to do that we need to fund the programs that keep Vermont healthy and at the same time resist raising taxes. I am concerned that we forgo over $1 billion in tax revenue from our existing taxes with various loopholes, credits, and exemptions mostly for wealthy corporations. For example we forgo over $9 million in taxes on insurance companies who write annuities and another $500,000 in property tax revenues to the education fund from the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Insurance Company. I believe that we can raise significant additional revenues in order to minimize cuts by eliminating some of these tax giveaways. Even with these measures, I think we will have to find further cuts in state spending, by eliminating programs that have outlived their usefulness. Promising to spend more and cut taxes just doesn’t make common sense.
EDUCATION FUNDING: Act 60/68 has done its job of responding to the Supreme Court ruling regarding equity in education funding resources, and helped many underfunded schools improve their ability to deliver a quality education. I support changes that improve balance, reduce complexity, and preserve our excellent public schools. According to my review of the various ratings we are about fourth in the country in public education quality and about fourth in education spending per pupil (not that there is any connection between spending and results). I want our public schools to be first in the nation at a lower cost per-pupil than we are now spending. Certainly there are ways to improve our public education without increasing costs.
ENERGY: Entergy Corporation needs to offer Vermonters a preferential electrical energy charge and fill the decommissioning fund before I am willing to enter into any conversation regarding the continuation of Vermont Yankee’s ability to continue past 2012. Currently, Entergy Corporation is engaging in a massive public relations program designed to convince Vermonters that the lies and mistakes of the past either did not really exist or they are not important. I don’t buy it; this multibillion-dollar corporation has been a bad citizen in the past and until a different, more responsible corporation purchases Vermont Yankee I am hesitant to believe the public relation blitz. Plenty of electrical power is available at or below the rate offered by Entergy so there is no cost savings to be had by relicensing at this time nor is there any reason to trust this corporation to run such a dangerous facility with the care diligence needed.
AGRICULTURE: Without significant changes at the federal level dairy farming is endangered in Vermont. The Farm-to-School and the Farm-to-Plate programs that the Legislature has put into place over the last several years should be expanded. In addition, expanded diversity in our farm community must be encouraged and supported. In particular, the experiments with growing “energy crops” is very good and hopefully we can create a market for locally grown energy crops that enhances farm profits and keeps energy dollars in Vermont. Students at Mt. Abe have started a grass pellet initiative, which is exactly the kind of initiative that the state should support.
HEALTH CARE: I will not be satisfied until every Vermonter has access to affordable and portable health care. I am excited by what the Legislature did last session by hiring an individual that has designed health care systems for nine countries. His mandate is to evaluate three alternatives. One must be a single-payer system, one must be based upon the private insurance system, and one can be of his own design. I am hopeful that we can move forward based on the recommendations of this consultant.
I have advocated and will continue to advocate for all the health care plans that are now paid for with tax dollars (municipal workers, teachers, and state workers) to be combined with Catamount Health. I would be open to changes in Catamount Health to make this possible. Once we build this type of health care system it will be more likely that we can expand it to all Vermonters. This might be a way to significantly reduce property taxes while at the same time move forward with health care for all Vermonters.
JOBS: This should be your first question because putting Vermonters back to work needs to be our first priority. I do not believe that more tax breaks is the way to accomplish this. We have seen in the past that tax breaks for the wealthy have only resulted in rich people getting richer (as you might expect). We need to move toward a process of trust and verify rather than many roadblocks to business growth. I have spoken to several businessmen and women during the campaign that cite state bureaucracy and confusion as the biggest problem. Between the Secretary of State’s office and the various state agencies we can and should create an easily explained and functioning path for business to follow. Targeting incentives such as rehabilitating existing commercial properties for business use may makes sense.