Washington 3 Candidate Q&A

by Carla Occaso

Washington 3 House Candidates (Barre City), challenger Karen Lauzon, a Republican, and Incumbent Rep. Tom Walz, a Democrat, offer their answers to questions by The Bridge, in order of receipt.

Barre Representative Tom Walz Airs Issues

The Bridge: What is the best way to improve our economy?

Tom Walz: The best way to improve our economy is to put more money in consumers’ pockets, and the best way to do that is to ensure livable wages. It is absurd and an indictment of our current situation that a person can work full-time and still have to depend upon public assistance. Increased consumer spending will also help create more jobs.

The Bridge: What is the best way to streamline and cut costs on the health care system?

Walz: The best way to address increasing costs of the health care system is to take on the pharmaceutical companies and their outrageous increases in drug prices. Medicare should be allowed to negotiate drug prices, and Americans should be allowed to purchase prescription drugs from Canada through their insurance plans.

The Bridge: Are we going in the right direction with education and school consolidation?  What is Barre doing about it? What do you support statewide as a way to cut education costs?

Walz: I am co-chair of Barre’s Act 46 Study Committee. We have filed our final report with the Agency of Education and will be asking Barre City and Town to approve the Articles of Agreement on Nov. 8. Act 46 makes a great deal of sense for Barre. It will result in better educational opportunities for Barre children, increased efficiencies and $4.1 million savings in education taxes over the next four years.

The Bridge: How about legalizing the recreational use of marijuana? Do you support it or oppose it and why?

Walz: It is too early to legalize marijuana without having more answers. Colorado has experienced huge increases in DUIs and in marijuana use among minors. There is no reliable roadside test for impairment from marijuana use.

The Bridge: What is your biggest concern for the upcoming session?

Walz: The opiate addiction issue cuts across many sectors: the economy, productivity, mental health, law enforcement, the court system and the impact it has on individual neighborhoods, families and the addicts themselves. We need to do a better job of addressing the causes of addiction.

Walz, a former teacher, retired in 2008 as head of the IT Department for the Barre City Supervisory Union after working for 35 years in education. He was appointed by Governor Peter Shumlin to serve as a representative to Barre in the House of Representatives on March 2014. He replaced Democrat Rep. Tess Taylor.

Barre Business Owner, Challenger Karen Lauzon Speaks Out

The Bridge: What is the best way to improve our economy?

Lauzon: I’m proud to be a small business owner in Barre and part of the local economy.  We employ local contractors and buy construction materials locally. The best way to improve our economy is to focus on local businesses and provide incentives to those who start or invest in them. We should support and incentivize Vermonter to Vermonter business lending and investment programs.  Here in Barre, we’ve had over one dozen younger Vermonters start or purchase a local business in the past two years.  The effect on our community has been powerful.  Right now, there are hundreds of unfunded young Vermonters out there with a vision and a dream willing to work hard and wanting to be part of the local economy.  We should make certain that they get their opportunity and give others opportunities to support them.

The Bridge: What is the best way to streamline the health care system?

Lauzon: I have been openly skeptical about the future of Vermont’s one of a kind health care exchange.  While I believe the exchange was developed with the best of intentions, Vermont has invested over a quarter of a billion dollars into a one of a kind health care exchange that doesn’t function consistently or economically.  As of June 2016, the backlog of unrecorded life changes at Vermont Health Connect stood at over 3,200.  In other words, Vermont’s exchange is still struggling.  Let’s assume that our current exchange actually begins functioning reliably.  The incredibly expensive future costs to maintain the exchange will have to be absorbed by Vermont’s small population, resulting in even higher premium costs.  If elected, I’ll call for a non-partisan assessment. We should start by asking one simple question, “If Vermont’s exchange model is such a good idea, why do over 80 percent of the states employ an entirely different (and less expensive) model?”  I believe we need to place more priority emphasis on wellness programs and illness prevention that is much more cost effective than treatment.

The Bridge: Are we going in the right direction with education and school consolidation?  What is Barre doing about it? What do you support as a way to cut education costs?

Lauzon: Last year, the legislature passed Act 46. Act 46, in its simplest explanation, is a cost containment act that encourages the consolidation of school districts and reduction of administrative costs.  Like many of the laws the legislature passes, it’s not perfect and is going to require revision as school districts work towards implementation. Our legislators were very honest about that.  In Barre, our local school boards and administration have worked thousands of hours in their planning presentation to the voters.  On Nov. 8, I will vote to merge our school districts. Regardless of the outcome, I will respect the result of the vote. An affirmative vote in Barre will result in millions of dollars in savings. In Barre, I believe the consolidation of our school districts makes sense.  Having said that, what works well in Barre may not work well in a smaller, more geographically challenging community. 

The Bridge: How about legalizing the recreational use of marijuana? Do you support it or oppose it and why?

Lauzon: Last year, the Vermont House voted against legalization. While supporters of legalization may be determined to bring that issue up again in the upcoming session, I would strongly resist that effort. In the past two months I’ve listened to hundreds of Barre city residents and heard concerns about topics such as the economy, the high cost of living, health care, crime and addiction.  No one has expressed to me an urgency or even a desire to legalize marijuana.  I believe that citizens are best served when government listens to their concerns and gives priority to the issues that affect the greatest number of citizens most.  While I would listen openly and objectively to the arguments for and against legalization at the appropriate time, I don’t believe that this is the time to have that debate.  We have too many other important issues — such as affordability, education and addiction — that must take priority.   Eventually, Vermont will have to discuss and decide this issue.  I would propose that the issue be placed on the ballot, as was done in Colorado.

The Bridge: What is your biggest concern for the upcoming session?

Lauzon: We have many challenges and limited resources.  While every challenge is important, they can’t all be a priority.  My biggest concern is that the legislature will not place the proper priority on the issues that matter most to Vermonters.  As I’ve visited with friends and neighbors in Barre during my campaign, their concerns are fairly consistent — bringing good jobs to Vermont, raising stagnant wages, attracting businesses, bending the addiction curve and preserving Vermont’s environment.  I would be a proponent for placing priority on the basics — keeping young people in Vermont, growing the economy, containing government spending, supporting local businesses and protecting our environment. 

Karen Lauzon, a Republican, is property manager at Edgewood Development LLC.

Editor’s Note: Also running is Incumbent Rep. Paul Poirier, an Independant of Barre City. The Bridge was unsuccessful in reaching him for this story by phone and email.  However, he has been on the Barre City Council dating back to the early 1980s. He has served in the House of Representatives from 1981 to 1988, and then from 1997 through the present according to http://legislature.vermont.gov/.

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