Vermont has had one female governor in its 225-year history. At a debate on women’s issues Thursday, Democratic candidate Sue Minter made the case that it’s time for another.
From closing the wage gap between men and women to addressing women’s issues in the workplace, Minter said the economic fate of the state is tied to the career prospects of its women.
“And we need a leader who is going to understand these problems, who’s going to know what it’s like to be pregnant and going to work, who’s going to know the struggles and the need for quality affordable child care,” Minter said.
A 90-minute debate at the Statehouse, hosted by the Vermont Commission on Women, sought to draw out candidates’ views on paid family leave, enhanced childcare subsidies and how to close the wage gap between genders.
The event gave Minter occasion to outline a number of proposals she says distinguish her from her Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott.
Scott, however, said the tax increases needed to fund Minter’s proposals would exacerbate an “affordability crisis” that’s impeding the job creation and wage growth for all Vermonters. By reducing growth in state spending, and putting “a renewed focus on making Vermont more affordable,” Scott said his administration will create the economic environment women need to thrive.
“We need to make sure our economy and wages are growing, and that the costs of living aren’t exceeding our ability to pay,” Scott said. “We need to make sure that budgets aren’t growing faster than our wages, and that’s what’s happening here in Vermont.”
Minter said Scott’s economic plan will do little to address underlying issues that have led to a $7,000 gap in median income between men who work full-time and women who work full-time.
Minter said if elected, she’ll work to install a state-run insurance program that would fund paid family leave program for new mothers, or for medical leave for people dealing with personal or family illnesses.
“I want to make it easier for families to live here, to have time with their babies, to allow them to have time with their loved ones,” Minter said.
Minter also called for two-years of tuition free community or technical college for all Vermonters, and said she’d ensure child care at every community college campus to eliminate a major hurdle to higher education for parents.
Minter also said she’d work to improve access to high-quality, affordable child care for all parents. And she said she’d employ the surest mechanism needed to aid women in low-paying jobs: a higher minimum wage.
Minter is calling for a minimum wage of $12.50 by 2018.
“Women are predominantly employed in low-wage jobs like child care providers, elder care providers, and that’s why we need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage,” Minter said. “This issue of women and economic security is critically important. I am a candidate who gets this.”
Scott said he gets it too.
“I’m pro-choice, I support marriage equality, and I support equal pay for equal work,” Scott said. “And that’s because some of the most influential people in my life have been strong, independent women.”
But Scott said new government programs aren’t the solution.
“I don’t see the need to increase taxes to do so,” he said.
On the issue of paid family leave, for instance, Scott said it’s been only a few months since lawmakers passed a new mandate requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave.
“Businesses do need time to adjust and absorb these new costs, so I would not support an expansion of the mandates so soon,” Scott said.
Scott said instead he’d count on a rising economic tide, and a frugal approach to fiscal oversight, to yield the outcomes voters are seeking. He said by squeezing efficiencies from the public education system, Vermont will find the financial wherewithal to improve access to child care and enhance educational opportunities, and still have enough leftover to offer tax relief.
“We just have to look outside the box,” Scott said.
Liberty Union candidate Bill Lee also participated in the debate.