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-3 House district — which includes Vergennes, Addison, Panton, Waltham and Ferrisburgh — are Greg Clark, Diane Lanpher, Kitty Oxholm and Jean Richardson.
HEALTHCARE: Catamount Health has made progress in signing up eligible Vermonters who had no health care, but there are still many more who have not elected to do so. Hopefully, the outreach program that has been initiated will improve the numbers. The importance of cutting down on those uninsured is not only for their benefit, but also for others in the healthcare system who bear the cost.
There certainly are those who would like to have eligibility for Catamount but cannot under present criteria. These situations should be studied for future recommendations, but with our economic constraints cannot be part of an expansion at this time. It also will be interesting to see what happens at the Federal level after the election, since both Presidential candidates have promoted health care plans.
ELECTRICITY: Vermont’s contracts with Hydro-Quebec and Vermont Yankee provide about two-thirds of the state’s electricity needs, at lowest prices in New England and without burning fossil fuels. The balance comes from wind, small hydro, and other sources. As the two contracts expire, the state will probably never see such relatively low rates again. We must, however, keep rates as low as possible, while always considering safety first and always seeking sources to keep Vermont’s carbon footprint low.
I believe that if the Vermont Yankee plant is found to be safe and reliable that it should be relicensed and remain a part of our energy portfolio. It will also be important that we continue to explore and encourage renewable energy sources within the state, as well as looking beyond our borders to replace the H-Q contract from a comparable, clean, low-cost source. Vermont’s future economic well-being depends on our decisions.
AGRICULTURE: Some Vermonters find high fuel prices, tightening credit, and other economic woes annoying and adjust accordingly — delaying purchase of a new car or cutting back on the Christmas list. To operators of family farms, however, these are far more than annoyances. They have huge impact on their cost of doing business, and we must recognize that fact.
One area of real concern to farmers that the Legislature must not ignore is their high cost for Workers Compensation. The complexity of new and existing environmental regulations is another, and the state should continue to provide technical assistance for compliance. Programs to encourage alternative energy use should continue, with an eye to how the family farm fits in. Concerns about the scarcity of agriculture teachers and veterinarians must be addressed. These are some of the ways our state can support an increasingly technical and challenging industry that we value greatly.
PROPERTY TAXES: In the plan we currently have to fund education (Acts 60/68), the amount of our education property tax depends not only on what is voted to support our local schools, but also on what every other school district in Vermont spends. Therefore, the legislature must find ways to hold down the rate at which statewide education spending increases, without compromising the high quality of education we expect for all of our young people — all within an economic environment of unstable energy prices and other rising costs.
A number of cost containment steps in both special and regular education spending were recommended by the House Education Committee and passed into law during the past two years. These may help, but I am convinced that the only way to make a real difference is to look deeply into our educational system and what we expect from it. (See Single Issue.)
HEATING: Many of us are very concerned about the coming winter, not only about heat and gasoline, but also food. Use of community food shelves has already increased dramatically in some areas. State government has taken action in several ways, in anticipation of this “perfect storm.” Emergency plans are being established in every area, and the 211 system will take calls about heating and other concerns. Changes in eligibility requirements mean more people now qualify for food stamps.
In addition, local communities have moved into action, and I believe this to be of utmost importance in the months ahead — neighbors looking out for neighbors. In our area we are planning for emergency cans of heating fuel to be available, and with the help of Job Corps students have stocked the food shelf freezers. My hope is that both state and local programs will remain in place in the future.
ECONOMY: The current downturn in Vermont’s revenues is, of course, a part of a much greater — even worldwide — downturn and will require cutbacks in state government as in many other places. Looking at the past few years, however, it is evident that we must create an environment more supportive and welcoming to the kinds of businesses that, over time, can bring greater prosperity to the state.
I support Gov. Douglas’s Economic Growth Plan, introduced in September. The plan includes a program to encourage Vermont companies and entrepreneurs to help find solutions to some of our stickiest challenges such as health care costs. It addresses permit reform, by bringing involved agencies together with interested parties to streamline the process. It suggests using existing infrastructure in its Urban Homesteading and Opportunity Zones recommendations. It addresses energy use through the Smart Grid proposal. This plan deserves real legislative consideration.
SINGLE ISSUE: During the past biennium I served on the Education Committee. Rather late in the second year a bill came to us that would have changed the education governance at the state level, eliminating the State Board of Education and creating an Agency of Education. Although we took very extensive testimony, we ultimately voted not the send the bill on. Many of us felt it was too late in the session to do justice to such an important decision but agreed that the entire education system and its mission should be looked at closely during the coming biennium.