Addison-3 House hopefuls share their views


MATT BIRONG

TIM BUSKEY

DIANE LANPHER

STEVE THURSTON

ADDISON COUNTY — All of Addison County’s incumbent state senators and representatives will run for re-election Nov. 3, and many challengers have stepped up to make sure there will be competition for the two state Senate seats representing Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore, as well as in five of the county’s six House districts.

Over the next few weeks, as part of its election coverage, the Independent will publish a series of legislative candidate Q&As, grouped by contest.

We asked each candidate the same six questions and offered them space for additional comment. For a list of the questions, see the Q&A sidebar.

In Addison-3 (Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes, Waltham) four candidates are running for two seats: incumbent Matt Birong (D), Tim Buskey (R), incumbent Diane Lanpher (D) and Steve Thurston (R).

MATT BIRONG

1. Economy: The COVID-19 crisis has presented some unique opportunities in Vermont.  I have said for years that one of the keys to growing our state’s economy and getting our demographics back on track is addressing our housing issue.  We, as a state, have done a phenomenal job managing this crisis. This attention has Vermont being showcased as a model for the rest of the country. This has led to high demand in real estate with some districts already reporting spikes in new families and student enrollment. Act 250 exemptions for Downtown and Village Centers will allow housing to be built faster and at a lower cost.  Good paying construction jobs will provide the necessary housing stock for the future.  We need to expand broadband, and with the surge in remote work, this is a must.  The pandemic also exposed our flaws and barriers in the national food system/supply chain. I see a great opportunity in Vermont surrounding this.  I’ll speak more to it within the question on agriculture. 

2. School outcomes: As a student that attended vocational classes in high school, I understand the value that programs like these can provide.  We are in desperate need of a new generation of tradespeople.  Carpenters, mechanics, electricians, etc. are needed to build and maintain the infrastructure that will be the foundation of this state’s future.  Specialized training in these fields during high school will allow them to enter the workforce with no student debt and an employable set of skills to begin a career.  I also support the reintroduction of Industrial Arts for students in lower grades.  We need to build a foundation of skills in the early grades not only to spark interest, but to also encourage critical thinking and develop the problem-solving skills that hands-on education reinforces.    

Of course, broad band connectivity is paramount.  Students in our rural areas are in need of stronger connections in order to have a more robust and functional education should they need to learn in this manner. 

3. School consolidation: With the continuing struggles communities, including this district, are having with the reorganization of school districts,  I believe it’s important to listen to the needs of communities.  The level of cost savings that were touted with consolidation haven’t materialized for most. The state needs to support struggling districts as they analyze the impacts and start to map plans that suit their individual needs.  

I, again, refer to the housing issue.  We have a district that is desirable for people to live in.  We have young families moving here in recent years but there isn’t enough inventory to meet the demand. This is true for both homeowners and renters.  The more units of housing we see, the more families and children will call this community home.  This will boost enrollment, broaden our tax base, and aide in navigating us through the difficult conversations we have been having about our schools.  

4. Environment: I’m focused on continuing work on water quality that has begun in recent years. As a lifelong Vermonter, I grew up fishing and boating on our state’s waterways.  First and foremost, we must remain vigilant stewards of these natural resources and know that its health and preservation need to be a top priority.  Investments and management with our municipal infrastructure, runoff, and how we build is essential so that we stay on the right trajectory.  

Long-range planning is one of the primary reasons I supported recent climate legislation.  Moving forward with resiliency investments to mitigate damage and strengthen our infrastructure is integral in mitigating the impacts of more severe weather events.  Storm-surges and damage that follows is becoming very costly.  Last year’s Halloween storm cost the state upwards of 5 million dollars and that is just one example.  Climate change mitigation investment in our farm fields, roadways, stormwater systems, etc. is a key tenet to environmental responsibility and accountability.   

Our approach to open spaces is key to protecting Vermont’s landscape.  I think the state needs to provide guidance around aspects such as elevation and fragmentation. And I do believe that municipalities and their Planning Commissions and Development Review Boards should have more autonomy and local control when it comes to development if there is ample infrastructure.  

5. Health care: Controlling healthcare costs in Vermont is a very difficult thing as we all know.  Being a state with an older population and only 625,000+ residents (roughly the population of Nashville), it’s very difficult to drive down healthcare premiums.  That’s just the reality of how rates are calculated.  One area I think will help is allowing the purchase of prescription pharmaceuticals from Canada and other countries.  I also support researching the health and financial realities of Universal Primary Care as a step the state might take.  

I do believe that nationally we need to implement publicly-financed healthcare.  No one should ever go without care because of who they are or what their job is.  

6. Agriculture: As a career chef and restaurant owner, I have been working directly and indirectly with farms for 25 years, 20 of which have been here in Vermont.  With our state’s local restaurants as the primary delivery mechanism, Vermont has been on the forefront of the country’s farm to table movement.  Over the last 20 years, that movement has gone nationwide and continues to gain traction as good for one’s health and good for the local economy.  

Diversification of agricultural products that farms produce is important to remaining solvent during market fluctuations or shifts in consumer demand.  Working with state on resiliency and infrastructure of our agricultural landscape to mitigate the impacts of climate change is also key.  I believe there is a lot of opportunity for job growth in this sector if we encourage investment in post-harvest production and wholesale distribution within the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions    

7. CANDIDATE’S CHOICE: COVID Recovery for our Independent businesses and community: “Vermont Everyone Eats” program:  This is a targeted grant of 5 million dollars from the Federal COVID Relief Fund (CRF) that will be used to feed people experiencing food insecurity using existing select restaurants and their staff.  They are required to purchase a certain percentage of their food from VT farms and makers.  This is a concept that myself and several others began formulating in early April. In the final days before the legislature recessed in June, I worked closely with our commerce committee’s vice chair to get the language and money put into this grant program. 

Early in the crisis, I worked primarily with Congressman Welch’s office and a fair amount with Senator Leahy’s staff on what adjustments to the PPP program would need to look like for it to be usable for more businesses, especially the hard hit hospitality/tourism sector.   Having an existing personal relationship with both Leahy and Welch was key in my ability to provide rapid and trusted “boots on the ground” perspective and insight.  I also worked closely with the Congressman and his office on the Restaurant Recovery Act.          

More importantly, I have worked closely with House Leadership, various committees, state and regional Chambers of Commerce, business owners and a range of trade associations on economic relief grants for our businesses and operators.  The money that has disbursed will be critical in shoring up Vermont’s businesses impacted by the stalled economy.  As one of the few small business owners in the legislature and the only one who owns and operates an independent restaurant, my experience and insight have been critical in helping Montpelier understand the realities people are enduring throughout the pandemic.  

TIM BUSKEY

1. Economy: One of my key priorities will be rebuilding the Vermont economy through thoughtful, realistic budget goals, without tax increases.  Our first step is to examine our spending, both the amount and the programs we support.  Start with zero-based budgeting by setting priorities as a State on what we would like to achieve.  When we look at our goals, be compassionate, but realistically reduce spending to only what we can afford.  We were in an economic crisis beforethe Pandemic with years of deficits and the Pandemic just made it worse. We’re driving small business out of Vermont at a time that we need to encourage and bring small business in.  We need incentives for success, not more bureaucratic regulation and punishment.  I’ll encourage the incentives that are already in place and listen to proposals that reward the entrepreneurial spirit that made Vermont special.

2. School outcomes: The responsibility for school outcomes begins at home.  A change in attitude about the definition of excellence in education should start with families teaching children about the benefits of jobs requiring specific skills.  Vermont is in need of carpenters, plumbers, electricians and caregivers.  These are not always portrayed as glamorous careers, but these skills are in short supply and can provide substantial economic benefits.  Support for our technical education and career centers is of utmost importance.  Small business is anxious to partner with education centers to provide the training and skills necessary to fill their job openings.  A vibrant educational resource is a real economic draw for business, and can result in good-paying, stable jobs for Vermonters.

Finally, school choice is necessary to provide parents with options and encouragement for their children.

3. School consolidation: I hope to find a solution to the difficulties created with the passage of Act 46, particularly the continuing huge increases in school property taxes and the closing of community schools.  The legislature should commit to determining the results of consolidating schools district by district so that we can have a starting point to improvement or change.  Every Town Charter in our district speaks of the importance of a school to the community.  To leave a Town without that center of education is economically irresponsible.  Potential new homeowners regularly examine educational services in a Town in the process of relocation.  While the concept of consolidation seems to point to cost savings, the reality has proven to be different in our district.  

4. Environment: I expect that the legislature will continue to have pressure on environmental issues, especially on water quality and climate change.  My energy will be on sane, sustainable and affordable practices that will have the most impact on environmental solutions.  I believe Vermont has made significant strides in the improvement of water quality, both through regulation and incentives for change.  I believe that we can achieve goals faster by utilizing incentives rather than punishment.  The elected legislators have a direct responsibility to set the parameters, list the priorities and monitor the progress.  They should not be giving away their responsibilities to unelected bureaucrats.  Our recently passed Global Warming Solutions Act offered no solutions, no emission standards, no oversight and no clue on how to determine when we have reached our goals.  I’ll be working on improving or changing this Act.

5. Health care: Much of my small business experience has been in health care dealing primarily with Medicaid programs for the aging.  While the programs are complicated, for the most part, they work well for those in need.  The last comprehensive reimbursement study was done years ago, and that should be updated so that more providers will be able to participate and more folks with real needs can be served.  

The Accountable Care Organizations are trying hard to serve the population that they have been assigned, however, the burden should not be solely on the providers to keep their patients healthy.  Patients taking professional care advice should be rewarded.  Health insurers should be permitted to abandon community rating systems and offer premium incentives for healthy practices.  Tort reform, limiting malpractice suits to a reasonable standard would go a long way toward reducing professional liability insurance costs and lowering the cost of medical care.

6. Agriculture: Continued support for Use Value Appraisal will be important for saving property tax dollars for farmers.  I’ll make an effort to keep constituents informed about how this valuable program works and the help it provides to farmers to even the playing field with fellow taxpayers.  This tax equity program should be extended to tax policy for the state, so that all property taxpayers will be assessed at their property’s current use value instead of some guess of future development value.  Tax department personnel reductions could be achieved by making Use Value Appraisal a tax policy.  

7. CANDIDATE’S CHOICE: I would like the Vermont Legislature to consider adopting a state Code of Ethics.  The state made the first effort in 2017 when they appointed a five member Vermont State Ethics Commission, charged with drafting and revising a code.  This summer, the Vermont State Ethics Commission released their proposed draft language for a State Code of Ethics that could be adopted by statute.  Discussion should begin and guidelines created.  The draft contains 14 core provisions, all designed to be the most basic rules for acceptable and unacceptable behavior for public officials. 

DIANE LANPHER

1. Economy: The state of Vermont was on track for it’s 10th consecutive year of growth and today we are all in the middle of experiencing a global pandemic, which has impacted all Vermonters’ lives. Montpelier’s fiscal discipline over the recent decade has increased our state’s reserves to 14%, recognized national for it’s fiscal strengthen when the average rainy day fund in other states is 7.3%. Why does that matter? Because those reserves assure VT is able to weather economic storms. The federal relief funds Vermont received this year equals about $2,003 per capita, far above the average of $388 elsewhere.  The investments made provided economic supports for businesses and citizens. Targeting essential needs: food banks, emergency shelters, rental assistance, mortgage assistance, poverty tax assistance, and transfer payment to the 30,000 Vermonters who lost their jobs. I will continue to work for all Vermonters in my unique responsible position on House Appropriations.   

2. School outcomes: Vermont’s state college system needed the Legislature’s fullest assistance this session and the House and Senate came forward with a way to invest the dollars required to provide a bridge to restructuring. Prior to COVID our colleges and universities were experiencing significant financial uncertainty, and the situation now is extreme. The Legislature requested and received a financial review, preformed by our state Treasurer, Beth Pearce this past June. The coming restructuring will include choices that will be difficult. It was important to provide our state’s higher education system the time to work with businesses, students and faculty on how to emerge from this current situation better able to serve the communities needs.   

3. School consolidation: Throughout the past decade I have been a part of supporting Vermont’s education system from Montpelier. Most Vermont districts have consolidated and our district did the same many years ago and has benefited from the maximum allowable tax credits. Local school boards have made all the difference. The struggles continue as districts still face declining student enrollments and limits on what taxpayers are able to pay.  The now additional expenses and distancing required with COVID places an enormous burden of our educational staff. They are the some of the many heroes who retooled on the fly, cleaned spaces, provided remote learning and feed so many of us. Looking into the future, I believe our County just might be ready to discuss the benefits of a single county district.  

4. Environment: Vermonters have a long history of desired independence and self-determination, which is why as a state together we have supported renewable energy goals. I have supported the goals found in Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan and I currently supported, as a cosponsor, the Global Warming Solutions Act.  Building more resilient communities and transitioning to locally sourced clean energy isn’t just good climate policy, it is good economic policy. Climate change is occurring and it is going to take action by everyone, and your state government must respond with action. Incentives along with deterrents must be a part of the solutions. We must evolve with the changing times and meet our climate challenges. Vermont has not yet achieved it’s goals and the effects of climate change will only grow. The risks are very real and we must set and reset our able to be resilient.    

5. Health care: Health Care has been one the highest issues and concerns I have heard from constituents over the past 14 years, because it is one of the largest economic factors for businesses and families. During this pandemic it has reached a new level. Vermont’s health care providers have been significantly financially impacted and the Legislature with our ability to provide support with COVID relief dollars has made and enormous investment in their sustainability. I am very aware of the efforts in the court system to overturn Obama care, which is Vermont Health Connect and serves many Vermonters. The uncertainly continues but each year we successfully build on investments that relieve challenges. Vermont’s move away from fee for service to an All Payer Model continues and incentivizes health care value and quality, with a focus on health outcomes, which started in 2017 and will be reviewed in 2022 for their six performance years.  

6. Agriculture: Vermont has a robust farming industry and I have been a supporter of advancing the agricultural products that enrich our Vermont brand globally. It is important to invest in what is working well: Working Lands grants, Farm to School, Farm to Plate, and Farm scholarships. The tremendous growth within the cheese and meat industries is an outstanding example of our diversity. The dairy industry has suffered from a combination of difficult issues especially during this pandemic and has received the attention of both the federal and state government. Vermont must and can feed ourselves, purchasing local is very important to our economy.  

7. CANDIDATE’S CHOICE: I am committed to the people living in Addison-3, more now then ever. After visiting you at your homes for more then a dozen years, the limits COVID has placed on going door to door has created a real sense of loss for me. I miss you.  

I am also committed to Vermont, and bring a positive approach that balances the desires of the people with responsible financial choices. It is a pleasure to work for you and to be a part of your closest personal issues.  I pledge to continue to show up ready, willing to engage, and listen in Montpelier or zoom on your behalf. Together we will construct our future and it will be as bright as we build it. 

I am honored to be your Representative and ask for your continued support this election.  Thank you. dlanpher@leg.state.vt.us  

STEVE THURSTON

1. Economy: Vermont has experienced a surge in home sales during the pandemic as people have fled the cities.  The inflow of out of state money has created opportunities for service business of all kinds.    Now is a good time for young women and men to learn a trade.  Many businesses cover the cost of state licensing – plumbing and electrical for example.   Skilled labor jobs pay good wages and once a skill is mastered self-employment becomes a possibility.  

High speed broadband internet should continue to be a priority since the demand for connectivity will only increase in the future.  Working from home, for adults and students has suddenly become necessary due to the pandemic, emphasizing the importance of a strong internet backbone in Vermont.

2. School outcomes: The 2020-21 school year will be a difficult one for teachers, students and parents.  If during this school year they can work through the challenges of mask wearing, social distancing, remote learning and the uncertainties caused by the pandemic we should celebrate their success.    

Looking ahead, Vermont schools should focus on basic skills and critical thinking to prepare students for adult life.

3. School consolidation: Local control of schools worked well enough in Vermont for most of our history, until Act 60 in 1997 removed local control of school budgets by imposing a statewide education property tax and equalized per pupil cost.  Act 46 in 2015 further eroded local control with a carrot/stick approach (temporarily lower taxes in return for closing local schools).  Both laws have failed to deliver lower costs or better educational outcomes.   Addison and Ferrisburgh have voted overwhelmingly to keep their local schools open – but the final decision is unfortunately out of their hands.  If given the opportunity I will advocate for more local control of schools.  

4. Environment: The Agency of Natural Resources works hard to control pollution in its many forms in Vermont and deserves support from all sectors.  Most Vermonters recognize that a clean environment comes at a cost and are willing to reduce spending in other areas of government to pay for Lake Champlain cleanup and other pollution controls.  

Climate change has become a rallying cry for many costly policy decisions which impose burdens on Vermonters without demonstrating any tangible benefits.  The Global Warming Solutions Act, properly vetoed as unconstitutional by Governor Scott, whose veto was then overridden by the legislature, is a good example of such a failure.   Unelected “Climate Counsels” should not negate the right of voters to have their elected representatives make far reaching decisions on energy policy. Vermont’s landscape should not be sacrificed to highly subsidized wind and solar at the expense of Vermont ratepayers and taxpayers.  

5. Health care: In 2016 Vermont entered a five- year experiment known as One Care.  Instead of being paid for treating patients, doctors are paid a set amount per patient with the expectation that they will help patients lead healthier lives.   One Care has not demonstrated that cost savings or improved patient health has been achieved and should be closely scrutinized before committing more funds to it.

On the flip side, Vermont needs to lose weight!  The pandemic has raised the mortality risks of obesity, but even before Covid-19 obese Vermonters were more likely to experience coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes – costing the medical system over $1 billion per year.   We need to get on the scales, watch what we eat, and get more exercise.   By losing weight Vermonters would help to bring down health care costs and create the working partnership between doctors and patients One Care envisions.  

6. Agriculture: My conversations with dairy farmers in Addison 3 always come back to the price of milk.  While the cost of production has risen steadily over the years, the price paid for milk is set by the federal government and changes with supply and demand.  The dairy industry needs price stability and a market for its products.  

Farmers take responsibility for protecting the environment and for adopting best management practices as required by the state. The record keeping requirements keep them up past their bedtimes. We should not be in a hurry to add more regulations at this time.

7. CANDIDATE’S CHOICE: The economic effects of the measures taken to flatten the curve of COVID-19 has put Vermont on financial life support provided by the federal government.   Fortunately, the state saw more revenue than expected for the 2019 tax year, which will help the state to close out the fiscal year 2020 budget which ended in June 2020. However, the Vermont legislature’s economist projects revenue losses from the Covid crisis will triple in the upcoming fiscal year with tax receipts dropping by $430 million. I see no other issue as serious, or more worthy of legislative attention, than the handling of this massive budget deficit.  

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