In The State House House Priorities: Water, Climate, Education, Health Care

by Ed Sutherland

Photo by Marichel Vaught

Photo by Marichel Vaught

As lawmakers get ready for another legislative session, a number of issues are on the table, including drinking water, health care, budgets, education reform, and taxes. With so many topics on tap, The Bridge contacted a few Washington County representatives to ask what is uppermost in their minds.

Rep. Adam Greshin, is an Independent who represents Washington-7, the district that includes Duxbury, Waitsfield, Moretown, and Fayston. The 54-year-old Warren resident sat on the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees revenue and taxation issues, during the previous legislative session. An executive in the company owning Sugarbush Resort, Greshin is also a financial analyst.

“Education funding reform combined with a plan to lower the growth in education costs; a plan to provide a working health-care exchange — either state or federal — for our citizens; and a plan to continue and bolster the slow, steady economic growth trajectory in Vermont,” are Greshin’s priorities for the new session.

The Democrat representing the Washington-7 district, Maxine Jo Grad, is a seven-term House member. Grad is expected to become chair of the House Judiciary Committee, a step up from last year’s vice chair position.

“Education finance and property tax reform, water quality and environmental protection, enhancing the local economy, public safety, and health care,” are all important to the self-employed Moretown resident.

Rep. Mary Hooper, D-Montpelier, is a second-term House member. The former four-term mayor of the City of Montpelier previously sat on the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions as well as the House Mental Health Oversight Committee.

“Folks in Montpelier, as is true for people all over the state, are concerned with maintaining their quality of life, with being able to live a good life and one that offers hope for a good future for themselves, their children, and our community,” Hooper said.

When it comes to Montpelier residents, “economic issues, including income inequality, make it difficult for people to see how they will be able to sustain a good life,” she said, adding, “the big issues include maintaining an outstanding school system while ensuring we can continue to afford our school property taxes; continuing to work toward affordable health care for all, and combatting climate change.”

As for her goals for this general assembly, Hooper is focused on taxes, climate, and campaign finance reform. “I am looking forward to working on the fairness of our tax policies and would very much like to see the state of Vermont move toward an income tax system based on adjusted gross income. With a fairer tax system as a base we can more logically tackle property tax policy.”

A co-chair of the caucus on climate change, Hooper said she and the group “will be working on finding a mechanism that will allow us to continue adequately funding low-income weatherization, reducing emissions from vehicles through alternative transportation, and understanding how a pollution tax would work. I am also looking forward to revisiting campaign finance reform and continuing to focus on criminal justice issues, including managing drug abuse.”

Rep. Warren Kitzmiller, D-Washington-4 district, which includes Montpelier, is a former Montpelier City Council member. Kitzmiller was appointed to the seat in 2001 to fill the post left by the death of his wife, Rep. Karen Kitzmiller. Since then, Warren Kitzmiller was elected five more times. Co-founder of Onion River Sports, Kitzmiller was the ranking member of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development in the previous session.

“Personally, the issue of protecting Vermont’s drinking water sources will be my top priority,” Kitzmiller said, referring to a controversy that started two years ago over the public recreational use of Berlin Pond – the primary source of drinking water for Montpelier. In August of 2014, the Department of Environmental Conservation refused to ban all human activity on the pond, allowing continued nonmotorized recreational activities. “The folks who are charged with protecting the water not only do next to nothing to protect the cleanliness of drinking water around the state, they have knowingly taken steps that increase the risk,” Kitzmiller said. “This is the only source of drinking water for Montpelier, our Central Vermont Medical Center, and much of the Town of Berlin.”

Aside from water quality concerns, Kitzmiller predicts “serious discussions about the increasing cost of education. We’ll also see what steps can be taken to control the rising cost of health care now that a single-payer system has been delayed. Plus, everyone knows there is a nearly 100-million-dollar deficit to be dealt with.”

Although readers can take some educated guesses about what issues will be front and center, there undoubtedly will be surprises that no one can foresee. That is the only constant of which voters can be assured.

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