By Lisa Loomis
The Valley Reporter asked a variety of local community leaders to provide questions for the four candidates running for two state representative seats for the Washington 7 district which includes Warren, Waitsfield, Fayston, Moretown and Duxbury.
The candidates are incumbents Adam Greshin, I-Warren, and Maxine Grad, D-Moretown. Challengers are Ed Read, I-Fayston, and Heidi Spear, I-Fayston.
George Schenk, Warren, American Flatbread
Many of the hopes and aspirations of the people of Vermont depend on the continuing development of our economy and, yet, it has been said that our modern economy is on a collision course with our essential ecology; that is to say, open-ended economic growth in its current form is, from an environmental point of view, functionally unsustainable. What are the three things you think are most important to do to advance our economy and what are the three things you think are most important for us to do to safeguard our environment for future generations?
Greshin: Vermont responded to the environmental challenge of open-ended economic growth in 1970 with Act 250. Few developers who have gone through an Act 250 review would conclude our economic growth is open-ended. The three components critical to advancing our economy are a well-educated workforce, a stable and predictable regulatory environment and a moderate tax regime that encourages risk-taking while sharing a portion of the profits. Above all, businesses and organizations crave stable and predictable policies which may be used reliably as a basis for long-term investment decisions. We can safeguard our environment for future generations by directing development under the parameters of Smart Growth, which encourages compact settlement patterns, scaled to a pedestrian-friendly size, separated by rural countryside and farmland and linked by transportation hubs. Economic growth and environmental stewardship do not have to be in conflict. The rules must be clear, predictable and applied in a timely manner.
Read: For Vermont's economy to advance, we must put cash back in people's pockets by reducing property taxes and operating a government on scale with Vermont's size and population; adjusting the sales tax to include internet purchases, leveling the playing field with local businesses; and focusing the state's marketing efforts on tourism, capitalizing on our greatest asset. Environmentally, I'd like to see greater development of biomass and biogas energy. Wood and manure. Seventy-five percent of Vermont is forested and we have 260,000 cows – each of which produces up to 12 tons of manure annually. Even when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing, the trees are still growing and the cows are still pooping. Let's use what we've got. I'd also focus on Lake Champlain cleanup efforts, as the algae blooms are toxic to both the environment and the economy, and continued low-impact use of public lands.
Spear: To strengthen our economy we need to: tackle affordability through responsible education funding reform; restructure benefits and entitlements away from consumption and toward high-impact investments such as child care and job training that expand employment options and earning power; and attract entrepreneurs and growth ventures through tax incentives and investments that facilitate and promote growth of high-paying jobs. To safeguard our environment we need to adequately fund the agencies responsible for regulating, monitoring and holding accountable any who profit by degrading our environment and compromising human health. We need to invest in a national unified smart grid to make green energy a viable primary energy source. We need to protect our wilderness and open space through zoning and development policy that fosters infill and denser urban cores. Across all government expenditures, we need to sharpen our focus on the impact each investment has on the incentives, opportunities and quality of life available to all citizens.
Grad: Advancing the economy and safeguarding our environment are inter-related.
Economy: Invest in 1. Workforce education and training; 2. Our built and social infrastructure; and 3. Agriculture, forestry and manufacturing. How: Fix education and property tax funding; build on new laws that fund entrepreneurial lending, expand agricultural credit programs, telecommunications, longer-term credit for local investment, student loan forgiveness, remove barriers for small businesses seeking access to capital; streamline industrial park development; and build safe and healthy communities.
Environment: Support 1. Resiliency; 2. Vermont's brand; and 3. Renewable energy. How: Build on new laws that support: growth in designated areas; public transportation; and renewable energy, streamlined development in industrial parks; agriculture and forestry businesses. There are great local models: Cabot Cheese installed machinery to reduce energy consumption, production costs and greenhouse gases; MR Food Hub, Hartshorn's Hydroponics, MR Path, MRVPD, Friends of MR and Grow Compost all advance our economy and support our environment.
Russ Bennett, Waitsfield, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility
Do you think the minimum wage is high enough? Is it right that a person working full time at the minimum wage is eligible for many low-income subsidies? Should we tax the companies that don't pay a livable wage at a higher level than businesses that do?
Read: As a business owner, I've never paid minimum wage. Vermont's current minimum wage of $8.73 per hour is downright absurd and insulting. Want to get the very least out of an employee? Pay her minimum wage and watch her attitude and production plunge. Give her a decent wage and a clear set of expectations, and the higher productivity will more than offset the higher labor rate. I fully support the Legislature's increase of the minimum wage to $10.50 per hour by 2018. If a person still qualifies for low-income subsidies at that point, the subsidies should be for a certain amount of time and the person should be required to complete a basic state-sponsored financial course on household budgeting, planning and prioritizing. Companies should not be taxed as a basis of their labor rates. "Livable wage" is a completely subjective term that provides no basis for comparison.
Spear: Rising poverty rates are not good for anyone, including businesses that rely on Vermont consumers. With a rising tide of state benefits obligations, pressure to raise tax rates is increasing. I support a phased increase in our minimum wage, which has not kept pace with the rising cost of living, particularly here in Vermont. I believe this change would not inevitably contract jobs, if done gradually. Also, increases should be championed at the federal level to not negatively impact Vermont's competitiveness. Increasing the complexity of our tax structure is in no way constructive, in my opinion. Increasing taxes would contract our economy in the current climate – the last thing we need right now in Vermont. For workers and our state and national economy, it is vital that we gradually increase the minimum wage.
Grad: A well-compensated workforce is a productive workforce. Workers who don't receive a livable wage may face challenges that undermine their health, education and well-being. Businesses claim that a larger increase in the minimum wage could be detrimental. We need to balance how we support our workforce and demands on businesses. The minimum wage is too low – it's not a livable wage. Over 50 percent of minimum wage earners are the primary wage earners in their families, and are women. We'd hope a full-time job is enough to support workers and their families. When this isn't the case, government should provide necessary services. A livable wage will lessen reliance on governmental services and contribute to affordability. At this point we shouldn't tax corporations who don't pay a living wage more than those that do. Employers, especially small businesses, face competitive challenges that can suppress wages. Addressing health care and taxes will help.
Greshin: Last session's legislation raised the minimum wage to $10.50 in three years and indexed it to inflation thereafter. This was a reasonable compromise between those who wanted to revert to the federal minimum wage ($7.25) and others who advocated for an immediate bump to $15. Companies were given time to adjust to a 20 percent hike in wages which, when payroll taxes and fees are added in, will amount to a minimum of $12 in hourly cost per worker. No one should be happy our lowest paid workers require subsidies for basic necessities, yet we live in a world where consumers have choices and capital is mobile. We can't mandate a pay scale or a tax regime dramatically higher than our neighbors and expect no economic consequences. We can, however, support economic policies which encourage business formation and expansion. A healthier economy is the best way to lift wages and living standards.