ORWELL — Mark Young’s supporters had to put on the full-court press back in 2004 to convince the Orwell Republican to run for a seventh consecutive two-year-term representing the Addison-Rutland-1 district in the Vermont House.
He easily won re-election, served out his term on the House Commerce Committee (which he chaired), and then happily returned home to spend more time with his family and continue his stewardship of the First National Bank of Orwell.
Four years have passed, and Young has again developed an itch for politics — only this time he is shooting a little higher than the House: Young, 57, is competing for one of Addison County and Brandon’s two seats in the Vermont Senate.
“There is some need, I think in Montpelier, to change the numbers a little bit and deal with some issues that I don’t think are being dealt with,” Young said.
The numbers to which Young is referring are the current Democrat majorities in the Statehouse. The Dems outnumber Republicans by a 94-48 margin (with five Progressives and three independents) in the House and by a wider 23-7 edge in the Senate.
“I don’t think a super-majority of Republicans or Democrats is a good thing,” Young said, recalling that legislative sessions during his House tenure seemed to be most productive with a more equal party membership in both chambers.
“Ideas can come from way to the right and way to the left, but if you’ve got fairly well-balanced numbers, they have to come together; they have to come to the middle,” Young said.
Young is a self-described moderate Republican who has been involved in public service since graduating from Champlain College in 1973. That same year, Orwell residents nominated him from the town meeting floor to represent the community on the Fair Haven Union High School board, where he served for eight years.
He has served as Orwell town treasurer for more than a quarter-century, and also currently serves as a University of Vermont trustee, and member of the boards of the Vermont Economic Progress Council and Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association.
Young was elected to the Vermont House in 1992 and served his entire 14 years on its commerce committee, immersed in activities aimed at improving the state’s business climate. Among the committee’s top accomplishments during his tenure, he said, was growing Vermont’s captive insurance industry to a point where it is one of the most robust in the nation.
“I’m proud of the work we did on that committee,” said Young, who did a lot of prep work on commerce issues before the start of each legislative session.
“We always invited people to the table and listened to both sides of the issue,” Young said. “It was a very open and inclusive committee.”
Young pledged to embrace the same philosophy if elected to the state’s highest chamber.
While Young believes his banking skills make him best suited to a financial committee, he said if he is elected he would serve wherever the leadership believes he will be most useful.
And he believes his prior legislative experience could come in handy.
“There will be a huge sea-change in the Senate next year,” Young said, noting that because of the current statewide election slate and retirements of some senior lawmakers, there will be a new lieutenant governor, president pro tem and appropriations committee chairperson in 2010.
Leadership — particularly in the area of finances — will be key during the next biennium, Young said, as the state continues to its financial house in order. Lawmakers had to make up a $156 million shortfall in the fiscal year 2011 budget and face the prospect of a $100 million to $120 million shortfall in next year’s spending plan.
Young believes the budget gap could be even wider, since the federal stimulus money will be running out and “Challenges For Change” — a legislative effort to cut more than $32 million in base spending within the state budget — is not likely to pay instant dividends.
“I think there will be an even bigger (budget) hole than they even think there is going to be,” said Young, who believes more cuts and “revenue enhancements” will be required to balance the books.
“The state needs an economic engine,” Young said of a strategy to boost jobs, and as a result, the tax base. Vermont continues to lose its youth to other states where there are more jobs, and Young said that has to stop.
“We need keep our students, our young families with kids and we’ve got to be think all the time about how we attract them and keep them.”
In its effort to create more jobs, Young said the state must tweak — but not necessarily re-write — its permitting laws and statutes. He suggested the state create some “ombudsman” positions to help navigate entrepreneurs through the permitting and licensing processes. Young also believes the Legislature, as a whole, could be more friendly to industries lobbying for feedback on potential business development.
Young acknowledged that the increasing costs of health insurance have been an impediment to business growth. He said the state’s Catamount Health program for low-income Vermonters has turned out to be worthwhile. But he does not favor the state adopting a single-payer health care system. Some candidates during this election season have touted a single-payer system — or a “Medicare-for-all” scenario — as a means of reducing administrative costs for health care.
Programs like Medicare and Medicaid, Young noted, already fall short of reimbursing physicians and hospitals for the true costs of services, leaving stranded costs for providers and private insurance to pick up. That’s a problems that Young believes might get worse under a single-payer system.
Young supports the idea of issuing citizens health insurance tracking cards that would electronically record the care each person receives — how frequent it is, and whether it is preventative or curative in nature. That information, he said, could lead to more cost-effective billing and records keeping for patients.
“I’m sure the concern people will have with this is privacy (of medical records),” he said, however.
Vermont must also get a handle on its energy costs if it is to encourage business growth, according to Young. He is concerned about the future of Vermont Yankee (VY) nuclear power plant, a facility he said should be closed in 2012 if it is proven to be unsafe. That question, he said, should be more fully explored.
“I don’t think the Vermont Legislature has the expertise to be deciding whether (VY) is safe or not,” Young said, adding he believes federal regulators as independent observers should be making that call.
“If we lose VY ... then we have a huge challenge to replace that block of power, and replacing it as a rate that does not cause lots of ripple effects with our businesses, people having a hard times making ends meet, and our utility rates,” Young said.
Looking forward, Young said Vermont should expand its energy portfolio to include conventional sources of power, along with renewables like wind, solar and hydro.
“We ought to use what Mother Nature will give us,” Young said. “But there are those who would lead you to believe that renewables are going to take the place of VY, and quantity-wise, it’s just not true.”
Young clearly recalled fierce debate over education funding while he was serving in the House. He acknowledged that debate has been rekindled and is likely to resume over Act 68 during the next session.
“I don’t know that there is anything particularly wrong with Act 68 other than the state is having a hard time keeping up the education fund,” Young said. “We have to very careful that we don’t use the education fund for anything other than education.”
He is not opposed to school consolidations or reducing the number of supervisory unions in the state, but he believes those moves should be done voluntarily.
“There are some consolidations that are logical and some that aren’t logical,” Young said, adding the state should reward the former and discourage the latter.
Ultimately, Young said school districts will be increasingly asked to shrink their workforces to reflect declining enrollments and increasing costs. Those decisions are best made at town meeting rather than in Montpelier, according to Young.
“I am very concerned about local control,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]