Gubernatorial Candidates Talk With The Bridge

by Carla Occaso

Four candidates seeking to become the next governor met individually with The Bridge over the past few months. We talked about who they are, what their goals are and where they stand on pressing political issues. Two are Democrats and two are Republicans. Other candidates may throw their hat in the ring in the future. The profiles are in alphabetical order and edited to be roughly the same length.

 

Matt Dunne

Matt Dunne

Matt Dunne

Matt Dunne, a Democrat from Hartland, announced his run for governor on September 3, 2015. Dunne told The Bridge his father was a civil rights activist and a lawyer in Vermont. His mother was the first woman to get tenure track as a professor at Dartmouth. When Dunne was 13 years old, his father passed away. This, Dunne said, taught him about the importance of community, as neighbors brought over food, offered rides and made sure the Dunnes were taken care of.

Dunne served in the House of Representatives from 1992 to 1998, served as the director of AmeriCorps VISTA until 2002 and then served as a state senator from 2002 to 2006. He has most recently worked for Google, but he quit this year in order to run for governor unencumbered.

Budget and the Economy:

Dunne told The Bridge sparking creative incentives to fund start-ups would be a strategy to “build on our strengths.” Vermont’s strengths include the quality of life, good school systems and close proximity to metropolitan centers. Dunne asserts capital for infrastructure to support entrepreneurial enterprises would not have to come from the state budget. “We could become the telecommuting capital of the world. This is the place where people can come and work for companies anywhere,” Dunne told The Bridge. Good broadband and rail and flight service makes it possible to get to places you need to go.

And Dunne knows about this first hand. For the past eight and a half years he has worked as an executive for Google, but his job took him all over the world.

Dunne also said he believes government can work its way out of a budget gap — not by cutting services to the most vulnerable citizens — but by energizing and augmenting the tech community.

Education:

Vermont has a proportionately high number of high-school graduates who do not go on to attend college, Dunne stated. “The state college system gets infinitesimal parts of the budget,” Dunne said, which can make it hard for students to afford college. However, one program Dunne supports to improve this is to allow any student who completes two years of military service to go to the University of Vermont debt free.

Elementary education could be improved using technology, according to his website mattdunne.com. This could allow more distance learning and a reduction in redundancy, which would presumably lower costs.

Healthcare:

Dunne states our poor execution of the health care exchange website has eroded public confidence in government’s ability to offer health care. The still improperly functioning site needs to be replaced. “We need to first fix the exchange to build back public trust and then move quickly to change our reimbursement system,” Dunne states on his website. The state needs to pay for “health” rather than “procedures,” Dunne states, adding that he supports moving toward universal coverage.

Recreational Marijuana Legalization:

Dunne talked of legalization of marijuana for recreational use as an inevitability that Vermont must prepare for. “It (legalization) is coming one way or another. I believe we need to get out ahead of it,” Dunne said. Dunne believes it is important to teach prevention for people under age 21. “We need to be very, very diligent in preventing problems,” he said.

 

Bruce Lisman

Bruce Lisman

Bruce Lisman

Bruce Lisman, a Republican originally from Burlington, lives in Shelburne after a long stint on New York City’s Wall Street. Lisman worked as co-head of global equities for Bear, Stearns & Co. Before that he worked for J.P. Morgan and Lehman Brothers.

Budget and The Economy:

In talking with The Bridge recently, Lisman said one of his missions in helping the economy is to retain and expand existing businesses. “Lets keep what we’ve got. Understand who they are and what they need,” Lisman said, explaining how important it is to build relationships with the “indispensable companies that make up the Vermont economy. Using money as a magnet or a weapon is usually a bad idea.”

Also, while there are a handful of very large businesses in Vermont, 96 percent have under 15 people, and those the state needs to help grow bigger. Small businesses struggle with the high costs of simply operating a business, such as workers’ compensation, taxes and the like. Lisman said to help these businesses stay and grow, it is important to keep close touch with them so, if they plan to leave, it could be possible to change their minds.

The Bridge asked if he had to cut the budget, where would he chop? Lisman said, “We aren’t talking about reducing the size of the budget, we are talking about reducing the rate of growth.”

Education:

Lisman said Act 46, legislation which pressures school systems to consolidate, “is a very bad piece of legislation. It is an under researched project that was not well understood by senate, education or the governor.” The school system and the way Vermont funds schools is very complex. “Act 46 demands consolidation as if that would bring a solution,” he said, when in fact, it would “raise taxes in hopes of lowering them.” Vermont may have the smallest classroom size in the country with class sizes ranging from two to three in a class up to 20.

Lisman said he proposes getting rid of Act 46 and all the “various caps.” He also suggested collapsing some of the supervisory unions in favor of a more regional approach. This way, according to Lisman, the technical and trade centers located throughout the state could be used more. “We need more plumbers, welders. These are occupations that are invaluable. We have demand without supply,” he said.

Healthcare:

“In the midst of this debate about financing we should strive for outcomes,” Lisman said. The healthcare system, as it is now, is more about insurance reform than care itself. “When we talk about health care, we talk about insurance. I’d get rid of Health Connect. It is probably $200 million in and $20 to $50 million to maintain it. In my life as a manager, I oversaw lots of IT projects. It shouldn’t have cost $200 million,” Lisman said. “And, not only did it cost too much, but it doesn’t work well and requires more and more workers to fix the endless problems.”

Lisman suggests putting more scrutiny on medicaid recipients to make sure everyone is eligible.

Recreational Marijuana Legalization:

Lisman opposes legalizing recreational marijuana because so far, there is no good roadside test. Also, if Vermont legalized marijuana, the state could be sued by bordering states, which happened to Washington State and Colorado. In addition, Lisman points out, the pot black market continues to thrive in Colorado, and tax revenues were not what was expected, Lisman said. “I’d say, no. Not now,” Lisman said. “We have an opiate issue that is large and overwhelming in our face. While we are struggling with that we would open up a new market. We don’t know enough. Why do that now?”

 

Sue Minter

Sue Minter

Sue Minter

Sue Minter, a Democrat from Waterbury, moved to Vermont 25 years ago. She is best known to Vermonters for her highly visible position as deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation during the recovery of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Her job required her to “rapidly re-deploy 700 employees to three incident command centers. Our state was in an incredible state of crisis. Thirteen communities were cut off,” Minter told The Bridge a few weeks ago.

“I was at the helm in Montpelier.” Her main job was to re-establish access to communities, which she said she did — in concert with many other entities from volunteers to the National Guard, fire and rescue departments (from Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire) and many others. She also dealt with the aftermath and rebuilding that followed. “We lost bridges, we lost homes and we lost people.”

Minter was elected four times as a representative in the Vermont Legislature, from 2004 to 2010.

Budget and the Economy:

Minter said she would focus on training workers to revitalize the economy. “I am going to work with our technical centers. We need to fire their passion for technical jobs because they are needed in the workforce,” Minter told The Bridge. “We have to get more young people to come to Vermont to stay in Vermont for livable wages and that is going to be my mission. That is what our businesses need and that is what the future of Vermont depends on.”

Many workers need to work two jobs to make ends meet, so Minter said she wants to help foster higher paying jobs. Part of the problem is finding trained workers. Minter talked about how some successful businesses are ready to grow, but have trouble finding workforce.

“We have so many assets,” she said. Minter said she has experience in economic revitalization for the cities of Montpelier and Waterbury.

Education:

Minter said Act 46 causes people to “have the critical discussion” about declining enrollment and school costs. For example, in her school system there are seven different school boards and seven budgets where they could become one region, which would be more efficient. And, tiny schools could be repurposed to become senior centers or for early childhood education.

Healthcare:

As for healthcare, Minter expressed concern about the current system, Vermont Health Connect. She said that she did not have problems signing up after she quit her job, but she has heard of people having difficulty when they have a change of circumstance. “I want a top to bottom review,” she said. “I am not ready to say we are going to to go to the federal exchange. She said, “we would only do something that extreme if it were found necessary.” Minter said Vermont Health Connect has more subsidies and that 96 percent of Vermonters are now insured.

The current system rewards doctors and hospitals for more visits, pills and procedures, which Minter would like to see changed in favor of supporting healthy living.

Recreational Marijuana Legalization:

Minter supports legalization and regulation of recreational marijuana. She said this would lead to greater safety. “We know Vermont youth are among the highest (pot) users in the country,” she said. However, she believes the state should move slowly and begin selling weed on the retail market starting with medical marijuana dispensaries.

“As a Mom. I want to know we will be having a very robust education and prevention program.  We have an enormous substance abuse problem that is ruining lives and families,” she said.

 

Phil Scott

Phil Scott

Phil Scott

Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott, a Republican from Barre, is well known in and out of the State House as much for his political service, his construction company (Dubois Construction) and his racecar driving at Thunder Road. He was first elected senator in 2000. He became Lieutenant in 2011.

Scott helped remove the remains of devastated mobile homes in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene without charging homeowners or the taxpayers, according to ltgov.vermont.gov. In addition, he launched a program in which he works a few hours in regular jobs throughout the state from manufacturing to ski area snowmaking.

Budget and the Economy:

Scott said state government needs to be more responsive to business owners.

“There are many good and well intentioned people, but they haven’t had to make a payroll. They haven’t had to endure sleepless nights wondering how they are going to pay their employees. That detachment from reality creates somewhat of an arrogance of how fragile business really is,” Scott said.

From a budget standpoint, the legislature has been “overly optimistic,” in Scott’s opinion. At current levels, it is unsustainable. “In a Phil Scott administration, I would not build a budget that grew faster than the economy. If (the economy and wages) grew at 1 percent, my budget wouldn’t grow any more than 1 percent.”

Education:

One third of the state budget is dedicated to education funding. The total budget for FY 16 is $5,625,556,419.00 while the amount allotted to K–12 education is $1,868,994,305.00.

Scott states that Vermont has to focus on creating a sustainable and affordable system. In order to do this, structural reform has to happen. “For the last 20 years, we’ve been losing about 1,000 kids per year from our public school system. At the same time, fixed costs have been rising. That means structural reform is necessary to get property taxes under control and, at the same time, continue to invest in kids and classrooms. It’s a difficult discussion, but we have to have it. If we don’t, we’ll have to continue to accept rising taxes or compromises in the quality of our children’s education. And I’m not willing to settle for either,” he states.

It is necessary to use flexible learning plans, technology and to pool resources in order to improve the situation. Act 46, an act approved by the legislature last year that encourages school districts to merge, must be improved in order to let communities keep what they save from mergers and return savings to local taxpayers or local schools instead of sending it to the state coffers, Scott states.

Healthcare:

There are public anxieties about the rising cost of healthcare, Scott told The Bridge. “When Obamacare was enacted, we were placed under the umbrella of coming up with an exchange,” Scott said. But the Shumlin administration decided to build a custom made IT structure” that cost around $200 million and still doesn’t work. By contrast, New Hampshire spent around 8 to 10 million for their exchange to cover twice the people. And, since Vermont is the only state with this system, taxpayers will be responsible financially for upkeep and upgrades. If Vermont had joined in with another state, those costs could be shared.

Recreational Marijuana Legalization:

“I don’t think legalization of marijuana should be about money. It is far too early. I am not saying ‘never.’ It may be inevitable. But we have the opportunity to watch four or five other states that have legalized. We have the population to see what has happened as they move forward with their programs. We don’t have to be one of the first on this. I am quite content making sure when and if we do this we have it right. Is this really the most pressing matter before us today? I say no,” Scott said.

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