By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie is seeking to win another two-year term with a proposed agenda that includes working to increase renewable energy sources in the state, crafting more sustainable state budgets in view of declining revenues, and enacting tougher laws on sex offenders.
Dubie, 49, is seeking his fourth consecutive term as lieutenant governor. The Essex Junction Republican faces major party opposition this year from Democrat Tom Costello (see story, Page 1A).
In an extensive interview on Tuesday at the Addison Independent, Dubie discussed his priorities for the next biennium, offering more of what he says he has delivered to Vermonters. He touted a six-year record in which he says he pushed for the creation of more “green” and high-tech jobs in Vermont, diversification of the state’s energy sources, a bolstering of aid and services for the elderly and needy in the face of surging fuel prices, and harsher penalties for those convicted of sexually assaulting children.
Dubie has condensed his accomplishments into a binder he titled “Lt. Governor’s Logbook: A Record of Success.” The latest edition includes 122 pages of text evoking Dubie’s vision for the state and initiatives he has supported to attain that vision.
“(The Logbook) gets thicker every year,” said Dubie, a Vermont Air National Guard veteran and current American Airlines pilot.
The Vermont lieutenant governor’s primary duties include presiding over the state Senate and casting the deciding vote in the case of a tie. But Dubie said he has tried to take a more visible, active role during the past six years by:
• Chairing the Governor’s Commission on Healthy Aging, through which he said the state has enrolled “thousands” of Vermont seniors in the Medicare Part D prescription drug program — including his own mom. Dubie noted that Vermont’s over-65 population is expected to double during the next 20 years, thereby increasing the number of citizens who will require more extensive health care and related services.
With that in mind, the state created the “Center for Aging” at the University of Vermont, the primary goal of which is to “help ensure Vermonters age successfully and with dignity.”
Dubie said he has taken a particular interest in the topic of Vermont’s aging population in light of his own parents’ struggles with multiple chronic diseases.
“It’s very challenging,” Dubie said.
• Co-chairing Gov. James Douglas’s “Fuel and Food Partnership.” The partnership, established earlier this year in anticipation of a more costly winter, has sought to bolster the state’s emergency shelter system; developed a “Button Up Vermont” program to help people weatherize their homes; and collaborated with the Vermont 2-1-1 hotline to publicize fuel and food services for the needy.
“Working together, we have also expanded the eligibility requirements needed to qualify for food assistance,” Dubie said. “This single act could help 30,000 Vermont households avoid having to choose between heating their homes and buying food for their families.”
Dubie declared what he called a “symbolic” emergency this past June 11 on the forecast of a potential home heating fuel crisis this winter. He said the average Vermont household could spend as much as $1,600 more on fuel bills this home heating season than last.
Dubie was heartened on Tuesday by what has been a recent, steady drop in home heating fuel prices, but he cautioned that people will still have a hard time paying bills in the current economy. He said fuel dealers have less flexibility right now in allowing people to buy on credit.
“They either have to put their customers on an approved credit list, or they have to pay on cash,” Dubie said. “And they really don’t want to sell (for) cash, because it takes away their flexibility to deliver fuel efficiently. ”
• Exploring trade agreements with Cuba and other potential buyers of Vermont’s agricultural products.
“The tainted milk scandal in China has actually taken a lot of the milk off the international market, and we have $1 million worth of (non-fat powdered) milk sitting in the St. Albans co-op,” Dubie said. “I’m not here to announce anything, but we’re close.”
• Promoting Vermont as a logical growth area for renewable energy industries, as well as a state offering superior quality of life for businesses in the high-tech fields. Dubie said he was not sure how many new green or high-tech jobs have been created during his six years in office, but cited several businesses — including Energizer in Bennington — that have recently added at least two-dozen new employees. Businesses specializing in aerospace technology — such as Vergennes-based Goodrich Corp. — have also seen an upswing, according to Dubie, though Vermont’s manufacturing and high tech industries have seen large job losses in the past six years.
Looking toward the future, Dubie said it would be essential for Vermont to “expand its energy portfolio” and craft sustainable-yet-compassionate state budgets. Dubie said Vermont currently gets one-third of its power from HydroQuebec, another third from Vermont Yankee and the balance from various small energy operations. With the HydroQuebec and Vermont Yankee contracts set to expire during the coming decade, Dubie said the state should focus on adding new, homegrown energy projects to the mix. That could mean more methane-to-energy operations, small-scale hydro projects such as one being pitched for the Otter Creek Falls, wind turbines and solar.
“The bottom line is we should pursue all means to end our dependence on foreign oil and to ensure an affordable, reliable and clean energy portfolio for Vermont’s future,” Dubie said.
Asked about the future of Vermont Yankee, Dubie said “there is an independent safety review on-going” of the plant. “That will determine, in my mind, whether the plant should be re-licensed or not.”
Dubie said, however, that all energy options should be left on the table — including new nuclear technology. He specifically alluded to “burner reactor technology,” a process through which spent nuclear fuel is recycled.
“I’m not sure there would be the support for that,” Dubie said. “But for those who are opposed to nuclear power, let me acknowledge that the current (nuclear) waste challenge needs to be addressed.”
Looking at the budget, Dubie said the prevailing economic downtown would make it even trickier for the Vermont Legislature and Douglas administration to build sustainable budgets.
“We don’t know what our revenues are going to be,” Dubie said.
With Vermont being one of the grayest states in the union, many of its citizens are dependant on investment income — assets that have been taking a beating lately with the tanking stock market. That, in turn, means less dividend-related tax income that can be built as revenue into the state budget.
“We know that Vermont is reliant, in a disproportionate way, on dividend and interest incomes,” Dubie said. “We know from the performance of Wall Street that we’ll be impacted. We are in the process of putting together a budget now. What I will say is that everything is going to have to be on the table.”
Dubie also vowed to push for stricter penalties for those who commit sex crimes against children. He praised the work of a bi-partisan legislative panel, headed by Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, that has been gathering public testimony on how the state’s sex offender laws could be strengthened.