Wind: 7 mph
By Kara Herlihy
Three candidates vying for two state representative seats came together Tuesday evening, October 28, for a candidates' forum at the Moretown Elementary School.
Incumbent candidates Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, and Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, were joined by Republican challenger Tony Vach of Northfield for the forum, which will be aired on MRVTV. The candidates want to serve the Washington 2 district. The forum was moderated by Lisa Loomis, editor of The Valley Reporter.
In his opening remarks, Vach offered his top priorities if elected state representative, which include repairing the troubled economy via job creation, and his primary reason for entering the race: tougher laws for sex offenders and the protection of children's safety, in general.
Democratic incumbent Maxine Grad reviewed her eight years in office and pointed to her experience as vice chair of the State Judiciary Committee, her work for child safety, highway safety and civil rights. Grad listed to her top priorities if re-elected, including continued work to protect the environment, public safety and increased public transportation.
Republican incumbent Anne Donahue said her primary concern is the protection of the process, and open debate, and continued focus on making "thoughtful decisions" while continuing her work on healthcare reform and human services.
When asked what they believed is the biggest issue facing their district, all three candidates agreed it was the troubled economy that they were most concerned with. Grad said she would like to scrap the current system of state-administered property taxes while "still maintaining control."
Grad also listed energy, healthcare and jobs as significant concerns facing Moretown. Donahue said she was "discouraged" by the economy and the pressure to reform the current system "immediately" without thoughtful discussion.
Vach said the "property taxation system is out of hand" and that the school budgets have since "exploded, and something needs to be done." Vach continued, saying that families cannot afford to live in Vermont and as a result are leaving, along with jobs, leaving vital infrastructure to suffer as a result.
In reference to a letter written by Win Smith to The Valley Reporter regarding raising revenues to encourage more people to live The Valley, Vach said, "We need to be more business friendly," and, "We can't bring in more people with the current tax system." Vach continued that he agreed with Governor Douglas' economic stewardship plan.
BUDGET IS TIGHT
Donahue said that it was "not a practical concept to lower taxes in our current economic situation." She added that the budget is tight and, "We need to build a stronger base for a friendly business environment."
When questioned on the statewide income tax, Donahue said that no other state "attempts statewide legislation like that," and pointed to the lack of transparency and resident's apprehension towards change.
Vach said he doesn't like high property taxes and thinks they should be reduced by taking "something we already have and turning it into something we can use," i.e., the Moretown Landfill methane energy plan. "We need to look for what we have and utilize unused building space and create infrastructure plans."
Grad echoed, stating that the current system is "not sustainable." When asked how each candidate plans to sustain public services come January, Grad said they need to "look at basic needs" and create a "fiscally responsible budget, and take a hard look before we cut basic services."
Vach said he was in favor of utilizing the state's "Rainy Day Fund" as a result of the high cost of fuel and need to sustain residents through the winter. Donahue said, "We need to be really honest with the budget" and be weary of "fake money" disguised as "fees" that the state tags as "windfalls."
Grad said she does not support Vermont Yankee, as it is at 125 percent of the capacity it was built for. She said she has no confidence in the report presented by consultants, calling the study "sub par" and does not "provide the true facts" in regard to overall safety. Grad said there are serious health concerns surrounding the plant's relicensing, including increased waste and no place to put it.
Vach said that the plant is "cost effective" and should operate by the standards of the experts who studied the plant, if it is safe for the environment. Donahue said the consulting team is meeting again in November to discuss relicensing, and that a lot more effort needs to be put into alternative sources. Donahue said she is a "big wind supporter" and more planning needs to happen.
Grad said she has sponsored bills that support alternative energy, including biodiesel, and she is also a big supporter of wind. Grad emphasized the need for conservation and commended Moretown resident Karen Horn for her role in the formation of the Moretown Energy Group.
Vach said several companies have incentive programs that will pay for wind and solar initiatives, but if environmentalists continue to oppose wind along Vermont's ridgelines, no progress can be made.
Donahue said she supports large, commercial energy parks, and that there are trade-offs for alternative energy, saying, "I have a nice view, but I would volunteer it to save some of the bigger views," in reference to wind mills.
Grad said the ridgeline wind issue has been "over politicized" and that Vermont does not have the ability to have wind power in that large of a scale across the state. When asked how alternative energy would be funded, all candidates referenced incentive programs and companies investing in an energy vision for Vermont.
Where healthcare issues are concerned, Donahue said the employer-based system "isn't a fair system" where costs are shifted onto employers. Donahue called the Catamount/Dr. Dino programs "very narrow" and pay less than the cost of care.
Vach said the problem is that "not enough healthy people are signing up; it's just those needing the care." He added that the system can only be sustained by more healthy people signing up, and is in favor of buying health insurance like car insurance, where people are free to shop around in other states for a better deal.
Grad said healthcare is a right, and that Catamount "is just a start." She added that more attention needs to be paid to preventative care, and it's still "very difficult for businesses and industries to get insurance" with the current system.
Donahue said the "state cannot do it alone" and referenced the elusion that "more does not equal quality" in medicine.
In their closing statements Vach said, if elected, he will focus on public safety, economic security, tougher laws for sex offenders, increased jobs and continuing to support the tax-free weekend. He also emphasized the need for affordable housing and supporting small businesses to be "stewards of the economy."
Grad said she "has demonstrated effective leadership in child safety, and am very proud of my work in sex offender legislation." Grad referenced a 35-point plan geared towards sexual violence prevention, treatment for victims, victim's compensation, and victim's access to criminal lawyers. Grad concluded saying she "appreciates your confidence in electing me for the passed eight years."
Donahue said she hopes to continue as "a participant in positive change" and "protect the process, ask questions, hear a breadth of views, continue the dialogue" and continue to examine bill language and make sure that legislation is not "rushed through."