The Valley Reporter’s coverage of the Washington County Senate race begins this week with written answers from the seven candidates running for Washington County Senate seats in the November 6 general election.
Candidates’ written answers to more questions will be printed in subsequent issues. The candidates seeking election are Ken Alger, Republican, Barre town; Chris Bradley, Republican, Northfield; Ann Cummings, incumbent Democrat, Montpelier; Andrew Perchlik, Democrat/Progressive, Montpelier; Anthony Pollina, incumbent Progressive/Democrat, Middlesex; Dwayne Tucker, Republican, Barre town; and Barry Wadle, Independent, Barre town.
Valley Reporter: Why are you the right person for this job right now?
Ken Alger: I am a seventh-generation, working Vermonter. I decided to get into this race to give working Vermonters a voice in Montpelier. I believe I can do a better job than those who have been in office and insulated themselves from the reality of everyday life in Vermont.
Chris Bradley: I’ve served the municipality of Northfield on the select board (three years, one as vice chair and one as chair); water and sewer Commissioner (three years), electric commissioner (two years), grand juror (two years) as well as lister (five-plus years, I still serve in this position). Through my service, I’ve learned to listen to differing points of view, as well as the need to research topics that come before me so that I can make clear decisions. I believe the state needs balance in the Senate between differing points of view. I can bring that balance. As a registered lobbyist who has worked at the State House on a completely volunteer basis for the past four years, I’ve attained a great deal of knowledge of how things work in the Legislature, and have been able to work effectively with Senators and Representatives from all parties.
Ann Cummings: I am the right person for this job because of my experience in working with diverse groups of people to reach a common solution. With the vitriol and partisanship that is plaguing this country nationally, Vermont is a bright light of civility and bipartisanship. I have a reputation in the State House for being fair and open minded. I make sure that all sides are heard and treated with respect. I think it is essential for democracy that every person knows they were heard and understood, even if they don't "win."
Andrew Perchlik: The combination of my public and private sector work on building the clean energy economy in Vermont, my experience as an elected town official, and my dedication to adequately support Vermont children make me someone that the voters will want to elect as their new state Senator.
Anthony Pollina: The most important thing a legislator can do is help make sure that citizens’ voices are heard in the State House. Over the years I have accomplished that with a range of Vermonters from farmers to children with developmental disabilities. It’s also important to stay focused on issues rather than partisan politics. I bring many years of experience as an organizer and educator and have shown the ability to talk and work with all kinds of people within and outside the State House.
Dwayne Tucker: I’m the right person for this job because I’m a lifelong Vermonter, and I’ve seen and felt the day-to-day struggles that every Vermonter faces. I’m known as the guy who will be there in the time of need, with a shoulder to lean on, an extra set of hands to lend, and always an ear to listen. I’m ready to go to work for the people of Washington County.
Barry Wadle: I am willing to make the tough decisions to cut taxes.
Valley Reporter: What's your top legislative priority?
Ken Alger: I would like to work on bringing business into this state, increasing opportunities and lowering taxes.
Ann Cummings: It is difficult to pick a top priority because they are all intertwined. My priorities have always been to improve the lives of the people of Vermont, to protect our environment, and to expand our economy. This year we need to focus on closing the income gap, cleaning up our waters, and helping small business development. It is also important that we continue in our efforts to understand and root out racism, sexism and all those hidden attitudes that cause inequality and discrimination.
Chris Bradley: In one word, my top legislative priority is: affordability. According to an article on CNBC, Vermont is currently ranked as the fourth highest state in the nation in regards to individual tax burden when income tax, property tax and sales and excise tax is considered, with these taxes totaling a 10.94 percent tax burden. Beyond that, Vermont currently has a debt of over $3.2 billion in our state pension system; we must bring education costs down to a sustainable level while increasing results, and we must resist the urge to add even more taxes onto the back of taxpayers until such time as we learn to be more fiscally responsible.
Andrew Perchlik: My top priority is to be an advocate and voice for Washington County. I realize that the full Senate will dictate the legislative agenda and I will be focused on building coalitions to ensure that citizens of Washington County are well represented as we build prosperity for all citizens.
Anthony Pollina: My top legislative priority is moving us away from property towards income to fund schools. Currently, even with “income sensitivity” middle and lower income families pay a higher percentage of their income to fund schools than higher income families do. That’s not really fair. We need to make the education funding system more fair and simpler.
Dwayne Tucker: Addressing industry and economic growth and affordability in the state of Vermont. Also addressing the heroin and opiate epidemic this state faces.
Barry Wadle: Smaller, leaner government. We need less regulations on smaller businesses. Most importantly, we need to stop raising taxes and cut spending until we fix our budget issues.
Valley Reporter: How would you fund fixing the outdated waste and stormwater systems in some Vermont towns that allow untreated sewage to flow into the state's waters?
Ken Alger: I believe this issue lies mainly with the municipalities that have not upgraded their infrastructure. As a state, we need to help out to combat this issue but we need some accountability by the towns. The state is extremely interested in each individual septic system that is placed by individuals and it should use this scrutiny on a regular basis with the inspections of municipalities.
Chris Bradley: Individual municipalities must be primarily responsible for managing their outdated sewage systems; it is not acceptable for municipalities to fail to address the shortcomings in their own systems. While the state and federal government can and does assist financially, it seems to me that a significant percentage of the costs for upgrading these systems must fall onto the users of these systems and, additionally, face heavy fines when they are not in compliance. For example, Montpelier has been having problems with their sewage treatment system for years, with that failure being a significant source of pollution downstream and into Lake Champlain, and while their sewage system is inadequate, they fought tooth and claw and expended significant amounts of money to protect their own source of water (Berlin Pond).
Ann Cummings: In order to clean up our lakes and streams, local municipalities are going to continue to be asked to bear a heavy load. It is not just our wastewater treatment plants that need upgrading, it’s our paved and unpaved roads, parking lots and other impervious surfaces. If we can't find a way to help local communities, local property taxes will go up significantly. I am open to discussing any funding mechanism that is fair and equitable. We also have to respect the efforts that our farmers have been making to improve their practices for years.
Andrew Perchlik: Cleaning up our lakes and ponds should be a top priority of the state. The combined overflow sewage dumps are a problem that needs to be fixed, but state funding could be better spent on other measures as these sewage overflows are a small percentage of the overall nutrient and phosphorous problems. The state should continue to work with municipalities to update sewage systems and investigate aerobic digesters at sewage treatment plants that could provide revenue to the towns and this revenue could help to address the combined overflow problems. One thing we can do is to limit stormwater runoff, if we limit stormwater runoff into the sewage, we will limit the amount of sewage that gets diverted directly to the rivers.
Anthony Pollina: The longer we wait the more expensive it will be to fix our water quality problems. There are three primary funding options I see that need to be debated. Bonding, which of course means borrowing; a so-called per parcel fee, which is a kind of land tax that would need to be designed to make sure that impervious surfaces, like parking lots pay differently than a regular homestead or farm field and; an occupancy fee which would be paid primarily by out-of-state visitors. None of these are ideal but they must be examined and debated. I am open to other options. The only certainty is that we can’t wait much longer.
Dwayne Tucker: First of all we need to hold those cities and towns accountable for the unfortunate circumstances of polluting our great lake. Secondly, with accountability, we can then take corrective action and upgrade the infrastructures of these extremely outdated sewage treatment facilities that are allowed to run way over functioning capacity.
Barry Wadle: That should be dealt with on the local level.
Valley Reporter: Shrinking enrollment is escalating the cost of education in Vermont. How would you bolster enrollment and the state's population?
Ken Alger: There is shrinking enrollment in Vermont's education system yet there is hardly ever a decrease in the administrative or teaching staff of a school. Vermont's taxation is forcing working families out of smaller communities. The regulations on small business, forestry and agriculture keep them from creating opportunities for working families in small towns in Vermont. Let's try tax incentives and smart deregulation and get our communities thriving.
Chris Bradley: Shrinking enrollment is but one of the problems with our educational system; there are others, such as multiple plans for health care for our teachers. According to an article in Forbes magazine which was based on data obtained from United Van Lines, Vermont is the No. 1 destination state in the country to move to in 2017. Vermont's culture, our scenic beauty and our outdoor recreational opportunities really stand by themselves, and I strongly disagree with the recently passed law that attempts to "bribe" people to move here with a $10K gift. What we need to do is to make Vermont more friendly to businesses, especially small business which will result in more good-paying job opportunities which in turn will foster the growth of our population. High taxes and lack of good paying jobs force people away.
Ann Cummings: It's not realistic to think we can bolster school enrollment simply by adding new residents because people are having fewer children than they used to. I think we need to "right size" our schools to meet today's realities, as The Valley has done. I think we also need to remove the hurdles that make it difficult for families to have children: low wages, no paid family leave, lack of quality, affordable child care. That's why I supported the minimum wage and paid family leave bills.
Andrew Perchlik: I would quibble with the premise of the question -- lower enrollment is not escalating the overall cost of education, but does drive escalation of the per-pupil costs. If the state is more supportive of new families and children with guaranteed family leave and quality affordable child care we will encourage couples thinking of starting families to move here and existing families in Vermont to have more children.
Anthony Pollina: It’s important to recognize that school budgets are set locally and as an overall percentage of our economy, school spending has been relatively flat since the early 1990s, according to the Public Assets Institute. However, boosting enrollment is desirable. It means keeping and attracting young families and making Vermont an even better place to work and raise a family. This should include a higher minimum wage, paid family leave and access to affordable child care, increased support for entrepreneurs and affordable colleges. One of the best ways to keep young people here is to have them attend a Vermont college and see good job opportunities and family-friendly policies.
Dwayne Tucker: I think the key to revitalizing enrollment is to provide more scholarship opportunities in our state colleges. We also need to re-evaluate Vermont from an industry and economic standpoint. With that, we could open up our economic borders to provide an opportunity for these students to succeed and excel in any opportunity from a professional standpoint to make a living and continue to reside in the state of Vermont. Only then will Vermont start to flourish.
Barry Wadle: I would privatize the education system with a voucher program.