The Valley’s candidates for the Vermont House of Representatives fielded questions on a variety of issues facing Vermont during this election at a forum held October 25 at the Big Picture in Waitsfield.
Previously The Valley Reporter detailed their opinions regarding health care and alternative energy. Candidates also answered questions regarding education, the economy and social issues in Vermont.
Adam Greshin, I-Warren, and Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, are the incumbent representatives for Washington-7 and they are seeking their fifth and ninth terms, respectively. Their opponents are Jake Sallerson, I-Warren, and Marie Leotta, R-Waitsfield.
The education questions the candidates answered were about Act 46 and early childhood education.
Act 46 passed this fall and candidates were asked about their opinions regarding the act as well as the prospect of school consolidation as a way to cut costs in Vermont’s large education budget.
Grad and Greshin were both in support of Act 46 and believe it is a good first step to a solution.
In terms of the next step after Act 46, Grad believes it is too soon to say what the state should do. She did mention that there are cost savings that are already being seen. In terms of school consolidation, she believes that working with the communities and finding the best solutions for individual towns is the best choice.
“It is not the size of the paycheck but the number of paychecks we send out,” Greshin said. He believes that we need to look at how we can administrate effectively and Act 46 is a good start to accomplishing that goal.
Greshin also made sure the audience knew that only school districts can close a school; the state does not have that power.
Leotta also believes Vermont is spending too much on education, lamenting the per-pupil spending figure as one of the highest in the country.
“With declining enrollment it definitely leans to the fact we are top heavy and I would really like to take a very deep look into how we can consolidate and bring those costs down,” Leotta said.
Sallerson said that he sees the need to cut down on overhead, administrative costs, but he does not believe school consolidation is the answer. He said that Vermont has too many supervisory unions leading to the high overhead costs.
On early childhood education, Sallerson believes that there needs to be a space for children to go, if their parents both have jobs, but he isn’t sure that institutionalizing it is the way to do it.
Leotta was the only one that was adamantly against any form of early childhood education. She said that she wants to see children back in the home and playing outside as she did when she was young.
“At what point do we stop putting our children in institutions and take responsibility for how we teach them?”
She also states that she was not a fan of preschool and said that all she thought was that the child was going to be raised by strangers.
“As far as the government teaching our children, really? Is that what we want for our children?” Leotta said.
Grad and Greshin once again found themselves to have similar views.
“I think it is key to our society. I see it as an economic development issue for our families, our workers and our businesses. So we need to make it affordable; we need to keep it high quality,” Grad said.
Greshin stated that it is an important opportunity for children that will give them a leg up. He noted that not all families have the ability to have their children at home because both parents may have jobs.
The prospect of a local option tax (LOT), which could possibly add 1 percent to sales, meals, alcohol and rooms in The Valley, has been discussed as a way to target tourists who come to the area.
The money that would come from the tax could be put toward a direct marketing campaign, as many resort towns across the nation have, or it could boost efforts in transportation or affordable housing.
The tax would come to a town vote and then it would have to be approved by the Legislature.
Grad was the only one who was in support of the LOT, but Greshin noted that although he is personally opposed to it, the decision is up to the communities.
“I think towns having the ability to explore an LOT is a good idea,” Grad said. She also said that it could help the local economies.
Sallerson believes the only way to fix Vermont’s taxation problem is to fix its spending problem. He posed the question of why Vermont is spending so much money and continued to mention that it is money coming out of Vermonters’ pockets.
“You can’t lower taxes if you don’t lower spending,” Sallerson said.
Leotta was, again, very against the proposition of another tax. She states that Vermonters cannot afford any more taxes.
“I am running on three points: no new taxes, no new fees and no new legislation,” Leotta said.
HEROIN EPIDEMIC, MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION
Candidates were asked what they would do to try to contain or help the current opioid problem and if they would support an ibogaine trial in Vermont.
Leotta said that she does not want to be a “guinea pig” or a “petri dish” for the rest of the country when it comes to a trial program.
Although she did say that she believes that Vermont needs to fix the health care system in Vermont and that doctors are overprescribing, she believes the real problem is in the economy.
“I think we need to get jobs and buffer our economy so people aren’t sitting around doing drugs,” Leotta said.
Sallerson said that, much like mental health, Vermont is looking at the heroin issue the wrong way. He believes that heroin addicts need to be treated as people in need of help rather than criminals.
Greshin said that Vermont needs to do the best they can to curb the ballooning issue. He did mention that Vermont has been taking steps to fix the issue, working with both high schools and universities to educate students. He said he wouldn’t count out any research that Vermont could do.
Grad believes that it is an all-encompassing problem.
“It is a public health issue that is touching all sectors of our state from our schools, our courts, our economy and our public safety.
She had worked extensively on prevention, prescription monitoring, and funding naloxone, a drug that reverses overdoses, and she wants to continue that work. She also said Vermont needs to expand treatment and if an ibogaine trial is viable, then it should be in the conversation.
On the topic of marijuana legalization, both Grad and Greshin said it is not a matter of when but how.
Greshin believes that there needs to be more research done and implementing a legalization plan is important.
Leotta said that she is conflicted about the topic, but she believes it needs to be decriminalized, as it is a drug that is deemed less dangerous than alcohol.
Sallerson believes again that this is an issue that must be brought to the communities to decide.