Time To Vote: Here Are The Candidates For Vermont Governor

Oct 31, 2016

The next governor will shape the future of health care, marijuana policy, social programs and taxes in Vermont, and the candidates don’t agree on much.

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What does the governor do?

The governor is the head of the executive branch and is the highest elected office in Vermont. Voters elect a governor in Vermont every two years, with no term limits.

The next governor will need to balance a tight state budget, the rollout (or roll-back) of Shumlin’s latest initiative, “all-payer” health care, a fix for the still-troubled health insurance exchange and a strong plan for the state’s overall economy, which is slowly emerging from recession.

He or she will also likely be the final signature or veto on a number of legislative initiatives that have been percolating in the capital in recent years: paid family leave, marijuana legalization, the formation of a state ethics committee and reform in the renewable energy siting process.

Who’s running for governor?

There are three candidates for governor on Vermont’s ballot in this general election:

Vermont's race for governor unofficially started in June 2015, when incumbent Democrat Gov. Peter Shumlin announced that he wouldn't be seeking reelection. With the state’s top executive office open for the taking in 2016, both Republicans and Democrats had hard-fought primaries.

Where are they on the issues?

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, has spent the campaign hammering on the issue of affordability in Vermont, drawing contrasts between his fiscal conservatism and the policies implemented in the past six years of Democratic control in the Legislature under Shumlin.

Democratic nominee Sue Minter’s focus has been on adding jobs that pay a living wage, access to higher education and strong public investment in statewide infrastructure. Minter has also sought to distance herself from Shumlin, stressing that she has a record and an agenda of her own.

All three candidates spoke to VPR’s All Things Considered to talk about their candidacies, their stances on various issues including:

  • Liberty Union candidate
  • Town of residence: Craftsbury
  • Has not held elected office in Vermont before
  • Former Major League Baseball pitcher
  • Campaign website

On making Vermont more affordable:

“I believe we go small. We feed all of [the] eastern United States, and it’ll create tons of jobs ... [We] can do it on our own, do it at a smaller scale, you know, have limits to growth. You know, like [British economist E.F.] Shumacher said, ‘Small is beautiful.’ And I believe Vermont’s on the right path and the Northeast Kingdom is leading the way with its microbreweries, its cheeses and its organic farms.”

On taxes and state budget:

Lee said he is against raising taxes and fees to balance the state budget, but said he is in favor of raising certain excise taxes to encourage or discourage certain behaviors, such as fossil fuel consumption.

“I would raise a sin tax, carbon tax, all forms of taxes. If you eat against your own best interests, and you’re using the hospital system, those taxes are on what you eat. I’m a firm believer in eating organic."

Lee said he would also raise the so-called Bottle Bill deposit fee to 10 cents for all containers, “except Bud Lite. I’d raise it to 20 cents, because all our ski slopes and our cross-country ski areas, when you go around in the spring, there’s nothing but Bud Lite cans around.”

Lee maintained he would not raise other taxes and fees, but said he hoped to boost tourism by bringing the now-defunct Montreal Expos Major League Baseball team to Vermont.

On renewable energy:

Lee said some large renewable projects, such as wind turbines, hurt Vermont’s tourism industry. “I believe we cut down the pre-existing windmills that are ruining our skyline, cut them up into little sections, and we do micro wind turbines inside of them in a form of art," he says.

“I’m a biodiesel guy. I believe that at our small schools and everything else, we can create, you know, new forms of ways — because of all the organic matter here — to make biodiesel. And we can run everything on those types of trucks, if you want to do fossil fuels, and create your own fossil fuels.”

“We’ve got to start coming together and realizing small is better. Don’t go big. Go small. Individual communities, have your own composting, have your own organic gardens, have your chickens free-range, your pigs like at Pete’s Greens, running out free, laying down, eating decaying apples.”

On Vermont Health Connect:

“You spent all this money — I heard it was $200 million — you’re going to throw the baby out with the bath water and start something else? ... I would like to work within [the current system] and fix it. I don’t believe in — you know, [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Phil Scott wants to go to the Connecticut plan. Well, that plan doesn’t work. We all have to come together. The regional technique I have is that we’ll have an association with New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and we’ll have this economic region, [and] we all have the same self-interest.”

On Vermont’s opiate addiction crisis:

Lee advocates for legalizing all drugs, but said regulation would prevent that from exacerbating the state’s opiate problem.

Lee said total legalization “will create a system like they have in Europe, where everybody tolerates one another. What we’ve done now is, based on our system, is isolated — more jails, more police. This is all our incarceration problem. This was all created a long time ago. If the Shays’ Rebellion had succeeded in 1780 [sic] after the Revolutionary War, Vermont still would be an independent republic today, and we would be in control of all of our medical, and everything, and we would be a — a more peaceful thing."

Want to hear more from Bill Lee?

  • Democratic candidate
  • Town of residence: Waterbury
  • Former Secretary of Vermont Agency of Transportation
  • Former Vermont House representative
  • Campaign website

On making Vermont more affordable:

“I’ve rolled out an economic development strategy around investing in our downtowns, making sure we have affordable housing choices and opportunities for entrepreneurs to grow.”

Minter also proposes offering two years of tuition-free education at community or technical colleges in Vermont. She estimates that program will cost $6 million in the first year, which she wants to pay for primarily with a tax on "primarily out-of-state" banks.

On tax policy and state budget:

“I know what it’s like to actually have fiscal management and prudence in a very uncertain time ... I know that we worked tremendously hard to reduce our spending in ways that would not have an impact on the future ... Every budget is very unique. And I think it is important to have the next governor understand how it is that we do manage our budgets, and how it is that we grow greater efficiencies.”

When pressed on whether she’d raise taxes and fees to balance the budget, Minter said, “It’s impossible for me to tell you today what Jan. 1, 2017 is going to bring. As you know, we have quarterly revenue projections. Right now, we know also if those projections are off and we have a shortfall, we will look to the budget to adjust the budget, just like we do every year to balance the budget. What I will say is that I will consistently present and sign a balanced budget.”

On renewable energy:

“We need to have a much more proactive discussion around siting. We haven’t had the opportunity for communities, or regions or frankly the state as a whole, to look at the big picture in the long term about where we can find the renewable energy facilities.

“Because of our statute, Section 248, and the process of the Public Service Board review, that is the statutory authority ... on whether or not a project will go forward. That has to do with the fact that electric-generating facilities are a statewide — in fact ... a region-wide resource. I will not go against statute and allow a veto. I will absolutely applaud a developer that enables and supports a community’s decision if they vote against it.”

On Vermont Health Connect:

“Overall, job number one is to continue to reform our health care system to reduce costs. For the exchange, I want to say right off this has failed too many Vermonters. Vermonters deserve better. I’m going to put fresh eyes on this program. I’m going to review the Legislature’s independent assessment. I’m going to make changes so we can actually make sure this is a system that functions well. Or, if, for example, I am absolutely told that it can’t, I am not going to simply say that someone else is going to solve our problems. I will say that’s a difference between me and my opponent [Republican candidate Phil Scott], that I am someone who has actually managed multi-million dollar IT projects.

“I don’t want to take on, on a whim, something that is going to cost more for Vermonters — and, most importantly, potentially leave Vermonters without their health care. Because if we just jump right now to the federal system, that’s what would occur.”

On Vermont’s opiate addiction crisis:

“I will appoint an opiate crisis manager. Someone who is actually tasked, as I was after [Tropical Storm] Irene, with thinking 24/7 about this problem. With thinking holistically about how we actually approach it. With setting goals with all of the sectors and the jurisdictions. We need to bring enforcement together with prevention and treatment, with our providing and prescribing community, and with our pharmaceutical industry. We need a team with a manager who sets clear goals.”

Want to hear more from Sue Minter?

  • Republican candidate
  • Town of residence: Berlin
  • Current lieutenant governor
  • Former state senator
  • Campaign website

On making Vermont more affordable:

“I saw that firsthand when I went out did my Vermont Every Day Jobs tour and talk with Vermonters all over the state ... I saw them working two and three jobs trying to make ends meet. And they're just not doing it, and the high cost of living in Vermont is a deterrent from them staying here.

“A prime focus for me will be on housing. Not just affordable housing for low-income [Vermonters], but affordable housing for our working class. And I think that's where we're we're missing something. I would put a specialist with every permit that comes comes across, Act 250-wise, to assist those who are trying to develop here in the state. I would focus on areas where we could provide some infrastructure for those housing projects that we deem is suitable for Vermont and properly-planned target areas where we want to grow and provide new homes for the workforce.”

On tax policy and state budget:

Scott said he would not raise taxes to balance the state budget. “I believe that we can live within our means. I think Vermonters need a break. I think the rate of increasing of taxes and fees over the last six or seven years is causing the situation that we're in today. This crisis of affordability that people are facing from high property taxes, and just the overall cost of living, is restricting them from growing, prospering and from coming to the state.

“We're not going to spend our way out of this and fix the underlying issue, which is trying to revitalize and focus on trying to restore the vitality of the economy here in Vermont.”

On renewable energy:

“We have a goal that's been implemented and passed through the Legislature, 90 percent renewables by 2050. I believe that's a laudable goal. I think that it's achievable. It's going to take new technology in order to get there. But I have full faith and trust and the ingenuity of Americans in order for us to get there.

“Most people know I'm not a fan of destroying our ridgelines. I believe the wind generation should be curtailed, the industrial-size wind generation. We should focus on other areas like solar.

“I believe that there should be a higher level of input from the communities where some of these large scale projects are being contemplated ... I don't believe they should have complete veto power, but I do believe that they should have more investment, a bigger piece of the process.”

On Vermont Health Connect:

“I believe we should just discontinue the use of that and transition to something else ... It will either be the federal exchange, or we will go to another state entity. There are other opportunities. Hawaii did the same thing, had the same contractor that Vermont did, CGI. They pulled the plug on their exchange. They were able to keep a portion of what was built for Medicaid, but they transitioned to the federal exchange in order to have something that actually worked.”

“I look forward to speaking to Hawaii, but Oregon has a model. Connecticut as a model ... There are almost 30 other states [that] have gone with the federal exchange and have been doing it successfully. I think we just talk with our neighbors in New Hampshire. They went with the federal exchange to begin with ... I'm not saying that it's a perfect system, but what we have right now is not working. And Vermonters deserve better than what we have right now.”

On Vermont’s opiate addiction crisis:

“[Gov. Peter Shumlin] and I don't agree on everything, but I believe that he made the right choice at that time to dedicate [his 2014 State of the State address] to the opioid problem. It is a dilemma that all of us are somehow affected by, and those that don't think they are just aren't aware. This is affecting our economy. And I've come up with a 10-point plan that you can see on philscott.org that addresses this issue.

“I would put a director in place, a director of prevention that would report directly to me rather than down the chain. I think it’s that big a problem. I think one size won’t fit all, but if we get together, listen to each other, try to focus on the issue, that we can have better results.”

Want to hear more from Phil Scott?

Time To Vote: Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

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