SALISBURY — As a self-employed paint contractor, Salisbury resident Tim Ryan has navigated through some choppy financial waters during the past four years while the economy has faltered.
And through it all, Ryan believes his fortunes — and those of other small business owners — could have been improved if state government had done more to relieve the tax burden and reduce regulations on struggling enterprises.
Now Ryan, 45, has decided he will try to change state economic development policy from within.
He confirmed last week that he will run as an independent for the House seat representing Addison-2, the district that includes the towns of Cornwall, Goshen, Hancock, Leicester, Ripton and Salisbury. Ryan will face incumbent Addison-2 Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, in the Nov. 6 General Election.
“Many people are making less now than they were four or five years ago,” Ryan said of the toll the recession, inflation, fixed costs, taxation and stagnant salaries have had on those making a living in the construction industry.
“You can’t maintain this type of pattern for a long period of time.”
Ryan is a lifelong Vermont resident and graduate of Otter Valley Union High School, class of 1985. He graduated from Castleton State College in 1989 majoring in marketing research with a minor in history. He grew up in Whiting.
It was 18 years ago that he established Ryan’s Quality Paint Finishes, managing a staff that has ranged from two to 10 workers.
Ryan got a brief taste of local politics in 2004, when he served one year on the Salisbury selectboard.
“I learned a lot about how town government works, how we set our tax rate, school funding and all that stuff,” Ryan said. He left the board after one year, in part out of frustration over the selectboard’s limited ability to affect the community’s budget, he said.
“By the time we get done paying our school taxes, the town only controls a very small portion of the actual budget, so I didn’t see the sense of being on the selectboard much longer,” he said.
Ryan has instead decided to try and make an impact on the larger political stage, in Montpelier. He’s spent the past few months doing some research in anticipation of his House campaign.
Vermont small businesses employed 157,564 workers in 2009, with most of the employment coming from firms with 20-499 employees, according to the Vermont branch of the U.S. Small Business Administration. And those businesses are facing a lot of financial hardship, according to Ryan.
“(The state) puts a lot of pressure on us, in many ways,” Ryan said.
As an example, he said his unemployment insurance premiums recently doubled. And that has come home to roost in recent years for businesses like Ryan’s that are dependent on the construction industry, which are just rebounding from some tough times.
“If a small business has to lay a couple people off, over a three-year period, that could cost their business $10,000 to $20,000,” he said.
Other factors that have been affecting small business, according to Ryan, include rising energy costs and soaring health insurance premiums.
Businesses should be getting more tax incentives, Ryan said. Instead, he said he has to pay a $250 fee when filing his small-business tax form with the state.
“It’s like they penalize you if you have a business,” Ryan said.
“Property taxes are going up; most Vermonters I feel in today’s world are in survival mode,” he added. “I don’t see the state of Vermont giving any of us any relief.”
If elected, Ryan said he would support policies to better aid small businesses. He added he would seek to contain increases in the state budget and would advocate for “reorganizing” administration of Vermont’s public school system.
“We have 61 supervisory unions in 14 counties in the state,” Ryan said. “We have three supervisory unions in Addison County. I think there’s some overlap there. These are the cost-cutting measures that have to happen. We can’t just keep on raising the state budget forever.”
Ryan acknowledged the Legislature will have to take some additional steps in health care reform during the next biennium. He said he supports provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act that call for the creation of a health care exchange from which citizens will purchase insurance through private carriers.
“Everyone needs access to affordable health care,” Ryan said.
But Ryan said he is opposed to the Vermont General Assembly’s plans to set up a single-payer health care system.
“The single-payer system that Vermont has proposed, there’s way too many outs for big businesses,” Ryan said. “If you’re going to run a true single-payer system, then everybody is either in or out. You can’t have exemptions.”
Ultimately, Ryan said he is in favor of finding ways to bring more insurance companies into Vermont to do business as part of the health care exchange.
A self-described fiscal conservative, Ryan classified himself as liberal on social issues, such as same-sex marriage and abortion.
He knows he faces a big challenge in trying to defeat Jewett, a four-term incumbent who is moving quickly up the Democrat leadership ranks. Jewett currently serves as House majority whip.
“Nothing personal against Mr. Jewett,” Ryan said. “I know he has great conviction in what he believes in. We just believe in two different things.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]