Campaign for Vermont (CFV) would be pleased to have your response to the following questions on six critical issue areas facing Vermonters this election season. Questions have been prepared by Campaign for Vermont staff and volunteers and reviewed for substance, fairness, importance and nonpartisanship. The same questions have were submitted to the top five major party gubernatorial candidates during the primary. We ask that you limit your response to any specific question to 400 words. The response deadline is Friday, October 14 and should be emailed to CFV at [email protected]
CFV will place these questions and your responses on our website with links to our Facebook page with over 17,000 followers. Questions and responses will be sent to our over 5,000 email subscribers. CFV is committed to advertising this forum broadly across social media. On Facebook, there will be a monitored dialogue format for discussion of these issues open to our partners, newsletter followers, the public and your campaign. The discussion will be strictly monitored to assure that the conversation is respectful, devoid of attacks on personality or party affiliation, and focused on issues. Please include links to any relevant social media accounts that you may have.
The Vermont State Budget:
- Context: Joint Fiscal Office data from fiscal 2011 through 2016 shows state spending from state funds (general, transportation, special, tobacco, health care, and fish and wildlife) grew at near 5 percent annually, from $1.87 billion to $2.39 billion. This annual growth rate far exceeds those of Vermont’s Gross State Product (1.8 percent), population growth (6/10ths of one percent) and the Consumer Price Index (1.55 percent), for example, for the time frame. Further, state spending in the 2017 “as passed” budget is up 3 percent or $71.4 million pre-budget adjustment. For fiscal 2016, the budget adjustment increased spending by $25.8 million over the “as passed” budget. These gaps between state spending and the underlying economy have been closed with numerous tax and fee increases during the above time period.
Question: In just six months should you win election you will be asked to vote on a fiscal 2017 Budget Adjustment and fiscal 2018 Budget. Do you expect will require new revenues to balance these budgets? If so, to what revenue sources would you likely turn? Further, given the bottom of the last recession was seven years ago, do you believe Vermont is fiscally positioned to weather the next recession without major cutbacks in state programs and/or tax increases?
2. Context: No organization is perfectly efficient including our state government.
Question: Using fiscal 2016 as a baseline inclusive of the $2.39 billion in state dollar spending, the $1.25 billion in net education fund spending and the $1.99 billion in federal fund spending, what do you think is a reasonable financial goal for achieving savings in the state budget which can then be reallocated either to maintain or increase services or returned to taxpayers? In which specific areas of state government do you think the greatest opportunities exist for reinvestment? And, would you support a long-term strategic financial plan for Vermont?
Act 46 and Property Taxes
- Context: In January of this year the legislature’s education consultant delivered their report entitled Using the Evidence-Based Method to Identify Adequate Spending Levels for Vermont Schools. The Report cost close to $300,000. The consultant concluded the following:
“Using data for school year 2014-15, the Vermont EB model estimates an adequate funding level of $1.56 billion or some $163.9 million (approximately 10%) less than Vermont school districts spent for PK-12 education that year.”
Since 2011, education property taxes, net of income sensitivity, have risen by $121 million to $1.039 billion despite a decline in the student count of 3,791.
Question: Do you think Act 46 is the policy and legislative initiative that will finally provide real property tax relief? If not, what further proposals might you pursue in the legislature to provide property tax relief to working families and provide the best educational opportunity?
2. Context: Many believed, including legislators voting favorably, that the Act 46 effort to consolidate school districts would allow choice districts to merge with their neighbors and still retain choice for their students. Subsequent to the passage of the law, the State Board of Education, has adopted the policy that choice districts cannot merge with operating districts when common grade levels are in play unless the choice option is abandoned. In the last session, the legislature refused to allow an amendment to Act 46 to clarify this matter.
Question: Should school choice districts be able to merge with operating districts and still retain choice? Will you support a legislative initiative to clarify the original intent of Act 46 and reverse the State Board of Education policy now inhibiting school choice?
- Context: The transitions in Vermont under Obama Care and Act 48 have been marked by massive cost overruns, failed technology projects, no-bid contracts and mismanaged eligibility determinations, to name a few of the pitfalls. Yet, Vermont has achieved nearly 97 percent insured coverage during this period, up from 93 percent pre-Obama Care and Act 48 and among the best in the nation. Some Vermonters say stay the course to 100% universal coverage as a top priority with the focus on the Green Mountain Care Board, the establishment of large Accountable Care Organizations and an All-payer funding system. Others say Vermont needs to first fix the operational flaws in the current system before venturing further into the uncharted waters.
Question: What is your view of this duality and what legislative initiatives can Vermonters expect you to support or oppose with regard to health care reform during your next two years as a state legislator?
2. Context: Vermont is an aging population, second oldest in the nation. Many Vermonters and their employers have contributed tens of thousands in Medicare taxes to the Medicare system since the inception of the Medicare tax in 1966. Generally, those now eligible for Medicare are happy with it.
Question: Do you support redirecting the Medicare benefits of Vermont’s seniors into the proposed all-payer system and if so, how does this benefit Vermont’s seniors over the services they now enjoy?
Ethics in State Government
Context: The ethics bill, S.184, as originally introduced by Senator Pollina and prompted by Campaign for Vermont had teeth. It created a code of ethics for legislators and executive branch officials and created a fully staffed ethics commission to investigate and adjudicate violations of this code. The bill had strong support and no opposition. However, S.184 as passed out of the Senate Government Operations Committee as what Senator Pollina himself described as “a shadow of its former self.” In the end, after two years of deliberations, S.184 went nowhere.
Yet, during this biennium period, issues of sexual misconduct, unseemly real estate agreements, campaign contributions from EB-5 developers, no-bid contracts by the executive branch, and revolving door employment between government and private entities, among others, occurred.
During deliberations on S.184, the following aspects were considered:
- Should governors and legislators be required to publicly disclose sources of income and other financial interests?
- Should legislators and executive branch employees be prohibited for a transitioning time period from accepting private sector employment with businesses they regulated?
- Should Vermont establish an ethics commission, independent of both the executive and legislative branches, to investigate allegations of ethical misconduct?
Question: As a state legislator, what would your position be on these aspects of S.184 profiled above?