Next week, Shelburne News will pose the final question to the three candidates from the Town running for the Vermont House of Representatives.
What steps would you take to secure economic stability in Shelburne and Vermont?
I appreciate the opportunity offered by the Shelburne News to discuss issues of concern to citizens in our communities and all over Vermont.
I believe in working with the businesses and organizations that we have in our communities. In last week’s response, I mentioned that I support form based code for the future planning and designing of Shelburne and its gateways both north and south of the Shelburne Village. I would continue to work with new businesses as well. I was invited to speak at the grand opening of the new Kinney Drug Store this past spring and spoke about understanding the need to be business/user friendly with people looking to locate or expand here. Current state policies work hand in hand with municipalities to bring businesses into our communities as well as assist current businesses.
We are very fortunate to have a nationally and internationally recognized museum within our borders. The Shelburne Museum is building an educational center that will be open year-round and bring many individuals and groups into town. We can enhance our visitors’ experience with our sidewalk project connecting the Village and the Museum. We can continue our collaboration with and support of public transit that serve these businesses at the far south end of Shelburne. I believe collaboration and cooperative problem solving is key to making things happen, which can lead to secure economic stability.
In St. George, I am working with a committee that is exploring the possibility of getting natural gas to its residents via a link along Rt. 2A. We are working with Vermont Gas Company, representatives from Williston and St. George, Select Board members, and State Representatives from both towns. Of course the economy of scale plays into the feasibility and possibility of this happening. I believe it is important to explore all options. I see my role as your State Representative as one that assists in bringing people, ideas, and implementation together in order to secure economic stability.
Economic stability in Vermont requires a strong dose of certainty. That is something we have had too little of with regard to (1) Healthcare costs (2) Escalating cost of government and (3) Increasing taxes.
The movement toward single payer universal health insurance has the public and business wondering how this will be paid for. Cost estimates that were promised when we met in the Town offices 18 months ago have been delayed several times. Now we hear that healthcare plan estimates have moved out to 2014. Obviously the administration is not getting the cost estimate they had hoped for. There must be serious problems, otherwise the estimate would have been available by now.
It appears that Vermonters have a higher than average desire for government services. As UVM professor Art Woolf has stated, “Compared to our population Vermont governments employ more people than all but six other states. Over the past decade, public employment has grown much faster than Vermont’s overall population and much faster than is the case in the other 50 states combined. Since a large share of government expenditures are for employees and benefits, a high level of government employment translates directly into a need for high tax revenues.”
Another concern that was recently reported in the Free Press is that the number of state employees as of July 2012 was 400 higher than the number of employees on October 2010…and the average state salary increased over that period of time as well. This kind of growth is extremely detrimental to our image and it represents another increase in expenses for taxpayers that is unacceptable.
Vermont taxes are some of the highest in the nation which certainly doesn’t enhance economic stability, just the reverse. Property taxes seem to be the tax that concerns most Vermonters.
At our town meeting two years ago, a Shelburne resident asked the School Board a question in reference to the school funding issue. The question was referred to Representative Lenes. She suggested that the resident drive down Interstate 89 to find the answer. I was that resident asking that question and am now taking that suggestion to heart and planning to go to Montpelier to get the answer to my question.
I would start with an honest conversation about our place in the local-to-global economy. What do we have to offer, and what do we not? While I believe that a stable economy is primarily driven by a dynamic sense of one’s place in the market, state government can help in four key areas: workforce development; infrastructure; flexible and nimble government; and identifying and cultivating the “Vermont brand.”
The business community and jobseekers report a mismatch between specific skills and talents available in the state as compared to jobs available. Research shows that when students have meaningful work experiences and build relationships with professionals, they are more motivated in their learning and more sophisticated in career planning. To address this disconnect, I would increase internships for high school and college students.
Businesses identify both physical and social infrastructure as important elements in choosing Vermont. I support intensive development of high-speed Internet, for without this, we become an economic backwater. I would continue to support tax incentives identified in the Vermont Employee Growth Initiative. A recent report from the Vermont Economic Progress Council indicated the program was functioning above expectations, bringing in a larger payroll, more capital investments and jobs, particularly well-paying ones.
Our government must be nimble enough to respond to economic changes, yet patient with our investments that tie to long-term vision. Government must also be stable enough to allow business to be to forecast and predict. I support maintaining our solid fiscal management, which earned us AAA bond rating. I support public-private partnership in clarifying our vision. I also support efforts to make the permit process more predictable, making room for new scientifically tested solution to emerge.
Finally, state government must continue to market to our niche. Healthy historic villages, wildlife, and natural beauty contribute to a valuable tourism economy. Vermont’s climate for incubator businesses placed us eighth in the nation for new start-ups. We can build our economy by bolstering our policies around Farm-to-Plate and diversifying agriculture. We must also continue to support homegrown energy solutions like responsible biomass, solar, appropriate siting of wind, and investing in long-term planning including affordable housing and health care.
Ultimately, we must remember that there is no one single solution. I believe staying true to whom we are and what we have to offer, our economy and our communities will thrive.