by Joyce Kahn
On November 4, Washington County voters will elect three state senators. Incumbents Bill Doyle (R), Anthony Pollina (P-D) and Ann Cummings (D) will appear on the ballot along with challengers Sandra Gaffney (P-D), Pat McDonald (R) and Dexter Lefavour (R). The Bridge posed three questions to the candidates on critical issues. Candidate responses appear below. In previous issues, the candidates offered their views on education costs and single-payer health care.
Question: Our youth are leaving the state in large number. What ideas do you have for keeping them here?
Ann Cummings, Montpelier, Democrat:
A certain number of young people will always leave the state, to pursue an education, a job, or to experience life in the big city. There isn’t much we can do about that. What we do need to do something about are the young people who want to stay or come back, but can’t afford to. The reason usually given is the lack of jobs that will allow them to live comfortably in Vermont. The Legislature is trying to develop these jobs and I think we are making some progress. The nature of work is changing. Many people, like my daughter and her husband, now work on the Internet for companies in other states. The expansion of high speed Internet and cell service will expand these opportunities.
We are rapidly developing jobs in the alternative energy sector and we are trying to expand the opportunities for entrepreneurs. We are a small state with limited resources that will never be able to compete with New York or California. We need to focus on our strengths our safe communities, clean environment, high quality education and health care; and do a better job of marketing them to young people. We need to help college students find jobs that will allow them to stay here and we need to do a better job of attracting new entrepreneurs who might become the next Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot Cheese or Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Most of all we need to be in constant communication with businesses and job seekers to make sure we know what they need and how the state can be of assistance.
Bill Doyle, Montpelier, Republican:
Young people leave Vermont for a variety of reasons and we should do everything possible to keep them in the state. The smaller northern states, including Vermont, for the first time in 50 years have lost population. Vermont has to become an affordable state and have a plan for an economic future which relates directly to job growth. Another factor that relates to affordability is high taxes and particularly the property tax.
During the last legislative session, many laws were passed that will help attract younger people to stay in the state. We were one of the first states to have a strategy for economic development. The Legislature also provided seed money to grow small businesses. In addition, the Legislature established a loan forgiveness program for Vermont residents who graduate from a Vermont institution. An internship program was also created to help provide a better qualified work force for employers. Another important measure passed by the Legislature provided a domestic export program to connect Vermont producers to markets in other parts of the country.
Our state colleges and the University of Vermont place a greater stress on math and science which often are very helpful in obtaining a job upon graduation. In fact, Vermont Technical College has programs for most students who, upon graduation, will find employment. Our technical centers have shown great improvement and in many cases lead directly to jobs upon graduation.
As a member of the Senate Economic Development Committee I worked hard along with my committee members to help the above measures become law.
Sandra Gaffney, Berlin, Progressive-Democrat:
The youth in Vermont are leaving our state in ever increasing numbers. Some steps we can take to retain them and encourage others to move to Vermont are:
Make sure there is affordable housing for everyone. That means a type of development that creates affordable housing. There is a fear connected to this type of housing, which in turn creates the “not in my backyard” syndrome. There has been a dearth of housing in general in Vermont for decades, which drives up the prices of ownership and rentals. People need homes to live in and will leave or not even come here because of our housing situation.
Our graduates are leaving with a huge burden of debt. The laws governing student loans do not provide students with a window of time to get settled in careers that they attended school and paid good money to be prepared for. Student debt is a lifetime long process, and comes before home ownership as a major debt. Our state needs to live up to its commitment to our state colleges to fund them at the 50 percent level that was promised. We now fund at below 10 percent.
We need the careers/jobs, right here in Vermont, fitting the education and focus, of college graduates, vocational school graduates, and all the other essential careers that our youth have chosen. The successful implementation of a livable wage for everyone would have the huge impact of keeping our youth in Vermont and bring others here to enrich our economy and communities.
Universal health care implementation will also be a factor in retaining our youth and others who like the idea of the forward thinking, and bold actions of, people who care about each other and prove it by not backing down, and following through with what everyone agrees is so important. That is, health care for everyone, not driven by profit, but by compassion and equitable financing.
Dexter Lefavour, Middlesex, Republican
Youth leave Vermont for a variety of reasons, including education, employment, recreation and environmental setting. When people leave for education or recreation or environment, it’s understandable. When people leave for employment opportunities while Vermont’s economy is struggling, the state should ask itself, “What can we do to make Vermont a place that has better employment opportunities for young people?” The state can take steps to make Vermont more affordable and enhance the unique aspects that make Vermont attractive to people. Affordability is key and we must strive to boost the economy and create such abundance that young people can find jobs, buy homes and get ahead. A demand for jobs is created by a demand for Vermont’s goods and services. The state must be competitive with neighboring states, and help its businesses by collectively promoting them outside Vermont and growing our state export economy.
Pat McDonald, Berlin, Republican
Having young people as an active part of our communities, sharing their ideas and energy about Vermont’s future, and establishing their roots and raising their families are critical components to making Vermont’s economy and lifestyle, healthy and vibrant. The solution to encouraging young people to remain in Vermont can be summed up in two words – opportunity and affordability.
We all wish our children would stay in Vermont after they finish school, but to many of our children the grass is greener outside of their home state. It’s natural for youth to want to seek new experiences. That is a reality we need to accept. So let’s look at the young people who are here – those who have come from other states to check out Vermont’s “greener pastures,” those who are students in the many of our outstanding higher education schools in Vermont. Let’s reach out to find out what attracted them to Vermont in the first place and build on that attraction and on their career aspirations. If we can encourage economic opportunity and affordable housing in Vermont, we would provide the road to the lifestyle that graduating students are seeking.
Let’s remember that if we continue to paint a brighter picture for Vermont by improving our education system, protecting our quality of life and our environment, and offering more job opportunities, eventually when our own children start families of their own, they will remember their own experiences growing up in Vermont and want the same for their children. We just need to be ready for them, and when they return, and the cycle will begin again.
Anthony Pollina, Middlesex, Progressive-Democrat
Most young people who attend Vermont state colleges stay in Vermont after graduation, making our colleges one of the best ways to attract and keep young people here. Unfortunately our colleges are the most expensive in the nation so many prospective students—Vermonters and others—go elsewhere. A new law I introduced commits the state to lowering the cost of our state colleges, which will help attract and keep young people.
We should also maintain our exceptional quality of life and the quality of our public schools to attract young families. De-couple health care from employment to encourage business startups, self-employment and entrepreneurship. Develop our “creative economy” including the new electronic arts and game development industry that is growing in Washington County. Encourage telecommuting with the best Internet connections. And stop calling Vermont anti-business or a haven for drug addiction and maintain a positive attitude towards our exceptional home—Vermont.