What should the state do about Vermont Health Connect?
The legislature is paying a consulting group, Strategic Solutions Group, $250,000 this year to answer that question. Their full report is due December 15th and a way forward should be clearer then. So far, we know that the exchange is a little less broken than it was before, even after $200 million has been spent to set it up and get it working. Like the poor oversight of the EB5 funding program, it is a clear example of the state stepping into areas where it has no practical experience. We have to be more pragmatic before creating new government programs and ask “Can our state government administer this program better than other alternatives?” If the answer is “no,” then we should pursue other avenues.
Should the state be taking different measures to change the way education is funded? Why or why not?
First, we need to recognize that the state has a spending problem. We are spending $1.6 billion per year educating less than 90,000 students. Act 46, while it has five stated objectives to raise the quality of education and cost effectively manage school districts, set in motion a painful, contentious process that inevitably will lead to school consolidations. It needs to be tweaked to allow for the Vermont tradition of local control, school choice and local K-2 schools, but the objectives are worthy. The statewide property tax that funds 2/3 of the education budget needs to be significantly overhauled to be simpler to understand and administer, more equitable to all property owners, and enable Vermonters to stay in their homes. I do not support an increase in other taxes to fund education as Vermonters are already overtaxed.
Should marijuana be legalized in Vermont? Why or why not?
Vermont has already recognized that smoking marijuana is not a criminal act. I agree; we shouldn’t be sending people to jail because they smoke marijuana. But we should not be promoting its use, either, much as we should not be promoting the use of tobacco or alcohol. Legalization is not the same as promotion, but it is a fine line we walk. I would be willing to consider reasonable proposals for the legalization of marijuana, but would reject any proposal that would result in an increase in use, particularly among adolescents, or would jeopardize the health and safety of Vermonters.
Should the state look at expanding the sales tax to include services in addition to goods?
We need to resist the temptation to expand the sales tax to include additional services and instead live within our means. Over the past few years the state budget has grown at rates that exceed the growth of the economy, forcing an annual budgetary crisis in Montpelier. We need to stop that. The answer is not in adding an additional tax burden to Vermonters, as we are already highly taxed with income taxes, property taxes, estate taxes, sales taxes and various fees. Instead, we should be focused on ways to grow the economy while holding the line on spending.
What is the single biggest challenge facing Vermont today?
The economic future of our state. I am confident that we can solve the immediate, important issues that we face: opioid abuse, health care costs, criminal justice reform, energy policy, education spending and property tax reform. But the biggest challenge is injecting vitality and opportunity into the Vermont economy. Let’s make it easy and affordable to live here and do business here, because it isn’t right now. We need to establish a fair, reasonable and predictable regulatory and tax environment. We need to partner with industries and educators to train our workforce for good paying jobs. We need to provide the infrastructure required to attract and retain enterprises and individuals: world class communications, education, utilities, transportation, affordable housing. We don’t need short term gimmicks or give-a-ways – we need meaningful actions that will ensure the long term future of our economy.