The Mountain Times

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Candidates answer the questions

The Mountain Times sent short questionnaire to the candidates in its coverage area, but due to Hurricane Sandy keeping people busy and pushing deadlines ahead a day, not many questionnaires came back. Those which did appear below. All answers are complete, but have been edited for consistency and style.

Senator Alice Nitka (D)
Windsor County

What were your chief accomplishments in the last legislative session?

One of my chief accomplishments in the last session was serving on the Appropriations Committee and meeting the needs of our citizens and state by passing a balanced budget despite the ravages and costs of Irene. Everything is in the budget, from roads and bridges, to education, to promoting our state as a place to do business, to more money for drug treatment, to money for the police, to our National Guard, to airports, to heating assistance for the elderly and low income citizens and much more.

What should be the top priority for the next one?

We can't accomplish very much unless we have a good budget, as that is where all the money is, so that will be a priority again. Maintaining a Triple A Bond Rating helps us to do this. Achieving statewide high speed Internet is also a must, as this can help small businesses get started and improve quality of life for many people. There will still be some isolated homes that are impossible to reach. Legislation and increased funding to fight drug abuse, prescription and otherwise needs to be addressed again this year. Creative ways, such as the voluntary Regional Ed Districts, which give property tax breaks while helping schools with their budgets and quality of education are needed. Virtual learning needs to be fully funded and expanded, particularly for small schools so classes can be offered that only a few students choose. Although we have the 5th lowest unemployment rate in the country, persons are still unemployed and we need to retrain them for the jobs where there are openings.  Expanding Career Centers can also help our new young workers just starting out.

Where do you stand on Green Mountain Care?

 I agree with fully exploring the option of a single payer system for Vermont. We need to know, however, what will be included, is it financially feasible, will it save us money and is it in our best interest. One of the biggest concerns voiced by citizens and businesses is the current cost of health insurance, too-high deductibles and no insurance. If passed, a single payer system could not be implemented before 2017.

How do you feel about wind energy?

The size and scale of industrial wind energy projects over the last ten years has changed dramatically. There is a study going on now regarding the consequences of industrial wind and if changes should be made re the permitting process. In the last session, I voted for a one-year moratorium for industrial wind so the situation could be evaluated and changes made as needed to protect our lands.

 What about solar and geothermal energy?

I support solar and geothermal energy.

What is your top priority for the county?

My top priorities for Windsor County, as well as for the towns of Mt Holly and Londonderry which are in Rutland and Windham counties respectively, (and where I am running for office in addition to Windsor County) are the same as outlined in question number 2. Additionally, I would like to see more funding locally for drug abuse prevention and intervention. I was recently chosen as Senate Legislator of the Year by the VT League of Cities and Towns partly because of my always addressing the effect of bills on the local level. Please feel free to contact me at 228-8432 or alice.nitka@gmail with ideas, questions or concerns. I'd love to have your vote on Tuesday, November 6th.

Dick Tracy, (R)
Windsor County

Why should you be the next state senator?

I am a citizen and taxpayer. Unlike the incumbents, I am a Windsor County native, a product of Vermont's public school system, and an 8th generation Vermonter. That doesn't make me superior, but it does make me different. I have a different world view, based upon my Vermont upbringing and lifelong experience in business. I am a small business owner. I have experience in 3 of Vermont's most important industries - lodging and hospitality, food service and real estate.
I have no desire for political power. I wish only to influence public policy to make life a little easier for Vermont taxpayers.
What should be the top priority for the next legislative session?
Get to the bottom of the costs and long term ramifications of Green Mountain Care. Until we know the financial implications of that legislation it will not be possible to produce a credible budget or sound business plan for Vermont's future.

How do we accomplish it?

Hold the governor's feet to the fire. The bill calls for him to produce cost estimates by January, 2013, but now there are hints that they want to hold off until 2015! Vermont Democrats refused - on straight party lines - to compel the governor to produce GMC cost estimates prior to this election. The refusal to produce even an ESTIMATE prior to the 2012 election is overtly partisan. Vermont voters should not allow those in power - even under one-party-rule - to get away with that.

Where do you stand on Green Mountain Care?

I oppose single-payer in general, and ACT 48 (Green Mountain Care) as passed. Here's why.

There is no evidence that Vermont's small population can financially support a single payer system. Neither my opponents nor the Governor can (or will) tell Vermonters what such a system will cost, or how it will be financed. As noted earlier, amendments to require the governor to release cost estimates prior to the election were defeated on straight party lines. The current system has flaws, but it works for most of us. We can solve problems - such as 47,000 uninsured Vermonters (half of whom would qualify for Medicaid) - without sweeping change.
Sweeping change is highly susceptible to unintended consequences. Think of Act 60, Vermont's sweeping change to education funding. Has that been a rousing success? Is anybody really happy with it? No and No. 

Other serious flaws: 

a) The bill doesn't guarantee that Vermonters can choose their own doctors. Specifically, in Section 1a, the first 4 principles are framed as "Must", such as "primary care MUST be preserved..." but at principle 5, where it discusses choice of doctor, "Must" becomes "Should", "Every Vermonter SHOULD be able to choose his or her health care providers." MUST and SHOULD have very different meanings. How could anyone vote in favor of a bill that does not guarantee Vermonters can choose their own doctors? 

b) Section 3 calls for wage controls "Board to set reimbursement rates for health care professionals." The history of wage and price controls in the US demonstrates dismal outcomes for such policies. 

c) Like other states, Vermont has a shortage of primary care providers. We have insufficient supply for current demand while Vermont has a growing elderly population that will need even more care. In one survey of Vermont doctors, 28% of the 600+ respondents said they would LEAVE Vermont if single payer was enacted. That's 168 doctors - gone. How are we going to replace them? Vermont hospitals ALREADY have trouble attracting doctors. ACT 48 has no specific plan to attract more physicians, and we're going to tell them how much they can earn? The obvious result is fewer doctors, more rationing, and less care.

d) Act 48's global budgeting is a road to rationing. What happens at the end of the 11th month and the budget is almost used up? One entirely plausible scenario: "Sorry, old timer. We (the State) can't afford your hip replacement."

How do you feel about wind energy?

On private property with private funding? Maybe I could support it. But it seems to me that the 300' industrial strength towers under consideration are neither pleasing to the eye or to rate-payers' pocketbooks. It is hard to visualize how such towers would be anything but adverse to the tourist industry. I would prefer to yield such decisions to local control.
What about solar and geothermal energy?
Privately funded? OK. I will not support government subsidies of ANY industry. Government subsidies privatize profit but socialize loss and that will NEVER be acceptable to me.
What is your top priority for the county?
Defend taxpayers who are already squeezed from every direction.
ONE MORE THING
Why is the pension fund for state employees and teachers under-funded to the tune of $3 BILLION?
Who's minding the store up in Montpelier, anyway?

Seth Hopkins, Rutland-6 (R)

Why should you be the next state representative?
 
As the father of three young daughters and owner of a small business in my hometown, I know the value of hard work and will represent my communities of Brandon, Pittsford, and Sudbury with energy and determination at the statehouse. Vermont is not (just) a retirement community, and it is important to have a diversity of ages and experiences in our legislature. I look forward to the opportunity to work for a Vermont that our three young daughters can hope to live and work in someday. My platform centers on three areas: Strong families -- Vibrant communities -- A sustainable Vermont.

What should be the top priority for the next legislative session?
How do we accomplish it?
 
One issue important to me is energy poverty. Many families throughout Vermont are faced with home heating bills in excess of half of their monthly income during the winter months. We should fast-track the extension of the natural gas pipeline south from Burlington and/or east from New York into our communities. The rest of the country is enjoying historically low pricing on natural gas, and our region is being left behind. This is detrimental to families and to our economy. Additionally, for those who will still not be served by the pipeline, we should expand access to in-state produced biofuels (wood pellets, etc.) and systems to make use of them for home heating.  Any investment we make to liberate ourselves from the volatility and escalating cost of oil will benefit our families, our communities, and our state's economy.

Where do you stand on Green Mountain Care?

The very next step we can take if we are to move to single-payer health care is to find the answers to these four questions as quickly as we can: Who will it cover? How much will it cost? How will we pay for it?  Who will pay for it?  Until these questions are answered, the only prudent course of action is caution. Health care professionals, the nurses and doctors providing the care, need to be on board with a change of this significance; to date they are not convinced. The legislature should ensure that a new system would be more cost-effective than the current one by getting transparent answers from the Green Mountain Care Board on costs and only proceeding if true savings can be demonstrated.
 
How do you feel about wind energy?

Vermont should initiate a three-year moratorium on new industrial wind projects. During this time, we should undertake a careful examination of currently-permitted projects such as Lowell: we need to know the actual results rather than optimistic predictions regarding effects on the environment, property values, and Vermont electric ratepayers (all of us) and taxpayers (all of us). Currently, the state is using our tax dollars to give incentives to out-of-state developers to build these industrial wind projects, which then produce intermittent rather than constant energy sold back to ratepayers at above-market premiums. In this way, wind development as practiced in Vermont has been very regressive. I have a fuller discussion of this question, which is so important to our district because of the Grandpa's Knob project proposed for Pittsford Ridge, on my campaign website,www.sethhopkins.us; select the "Industrial Wind" tab.

What about solar and geothermal energy?

Solar and geothermal will be nice, but they are not at the economically viable stage yet, especially geothermal because Vermont's electric rates are so high, and geothermal systems require electric heat pumps. I agree with those who suggest that Vermont would better serve its citizens by recognizing that "the time to deploy cutting edge renewables is when those technologies are actually cost effective."  Vermont consumes only 0.2% of all the energy consumed in the United States and will never be a driver of energy markets, no matter how much we want to force solar and geothermal to make economic sense. Until then, the efforts we are making to force renewables to market are actually very regressive, with the cost falling on those who can least afford it.

What is your top priority for your district?

I pledge to work with the Agriculture and Health Departments and House Appropriations Committee immediately upon being elected so that the important public health issue of mosquito monitoring and abatement is fully funded in the 2013 Budget Adjustment Act, which is already being written. This is a day-one priority because it is too serious an issue to wait until taking office in January. January will be too late for action for the upcoming mosquito season. Area legislators understand the gravity of the need, and I will work diligently to persuade the administration and other legislators of it.

Rep. Jim Eckhardt (R), Rutland-Windsor 1
Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon

What were your chief accomplishments in the last legislative session?

I saved approximately 100 jobs in Poultney when I spotted a little bill going through the Senate. This bill was to regulate mercury in Vermont. One of my neighbors owns a small company in Poultney that builds specialty light bulbs for restaurants, hospitals, etc. I sent him a copy of the bill and asked if he had any concerns. He stated that the bill as written would put him of business. I toured his plant and ensured that language got into the bill that would save his plant from closing.
Six of my constituents in North Chittenden and over 70 Pittsford residents were going to lose their water due to a decision by the ANR to close down a water reservoir in Chittenden. Rep. Butch Shaw had spent 2.5 years working in the Legislature to get either a grant or loan to the homes that were going to lose water. He took the lead on this bill and about one month before the end of the session, he came to me and stated that he needed my help as all the money and the language had been pulled from the bill. That evening I met with Dem. Senator John Campbell and informed him of the problem. The next morning I met with Sen. Campbell, Senate Majority Leader Bill Carris, the Head of the Agency of Natural Resources and the Chair of the Finance Committee. We worked out the issues and got money and language back into the bill. This bill gives folks affected by this system shut down no interest loans that they can use to drill their own wells.
Both of these solutions required bipartisan support and I am proud of my ability to cross the aisle to gets things done for my district.         
 
What should be the top priority for the next one?

Job growth should have been the first priority two years ago and it is still the first priority now. Central and Southern Vermont has lost population while Chittenden County keeps growing. Our largest export now is our young people. We need to attract business to Vermont. When people work they are less likely to commit crimes or get involved with drugs. They do not need to rely on social services, thus reducing our tax burdens. We need to be proactive in attracting business into Vermont. I don't know about you, but I am getting sick of hearing this same line over and over again. Vermonters need to demand that we concentrate on this issue and stop raising so much uncertainty for very businesses we wish to grow or move to Vermont.
 
How do we accomplish it?

First, stop voting on ideological bills such as the health care and renewable energy bills until we have the facts. All we do is create uncertainty and business hates uncertainty especially if they are looking to expand or move. The renewable energy bill is helping to raise our electric rates to among the highest in the country. When you add in the high education taxes, high electric rates and the uncertainty over the health care scheme you can see why business would be skeptical about doing business here. 

Where do you stand on Green Mountain Care?

I am in favor of the Health Care Exchanges but I am against (at this time) single payer health care. I say "at this time" because I see single payer as an idea, not a fact-driven bill. Once we answer the questions with facts I could change my direction. How much is it going to cost? Who is going to be covered? Who is going to pay for it? What about self -insured companies? Federal laws say we cannot mandate insurance on self-insured companies and without that group of Vermonters this plan gets a lot more expensive. At this point this is an ideological bill being discussed at the wrong time. Let's get the facts then start the discussion.

I did put language in the bill which would take into consideration the use of worker's compensation premium payments to help pay for health insurance. That language was put into a study and is ongoing. This could have business paying only once into health care and that would cover an employee 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This could save business money and work to bring down the cost of single payer. 

How do you feel about wind energy?

I am very concerned about our energy rates and the ideology that is being used to push this forward. The subsidies we have promised are raising our electric rates to among the very highest in the country. We say we want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil as well clean up our air. Industrial wind does neither. In Vermont we currently have the cleanest electricity portfolio in the country. To say that we are cleaning up our atmosphere and reducing our dependency on foreign oil is just not true as we currently use no power source that pollutes our air or burns oil. I am also against blasting off the tops of our mountains and putting in huge roads and infrastructure to handle these huge windmills. If our goal is to reduce pollution then we need to affect how we heat our homes and power our vehicles. I am very interested in heat pumps to heat our homes, as a friend of mine who works for CVPS has had excellent results in using one in his home and he is now working with GMP to further study their effectiveness. Vehicle use in Vermont is very important due to our rural landscape so I believe that the automotive companies need to continue to work with the federal government to ensure we keep heading towards more fuel efficient vehicles.

What about solar and geothermal energy?

About a year ago I researched putting solar panels on my home. To make a long story short, I found that for my home it was just not cost effective, even with a roof that faces south. I will await the results of current studies to see if heat pumps will work better for my home. 

What is your top priority for your district?

Continue to inform my constituency about the bills being discussed in the State House. Continue to research the facts that bring a bill to the floor. Continue to seek input from my constituency before placing my vote on a particular bill. Continue to represent my constituency without the voice of special interests and without the leanings of the political parties. I will represent you with honesty and integrity. 

Anne L. Gallivan, (D), Rutland-Windsor 1
Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon

Why should you be the next state representative?


When elected, I will bring a positive energy to the job. I enjoy looking at the big picture issues and working, with constituents on solutions that work for our communities. I am a listener and a researcher, and I will be dedicated to participating fully in the legislative session. 

What should be the top priority for the next legislative session?

Health care reform is paramount.  As of 2010, Vermont health care costs had grown from about 10 percent to 20 percent in 18 years. In the same period, education spending grew from just over 5 percent to about 6 percent. And health costs continue to spiral.


How do we accomplish it?

By moving toward single payer, the costs of health care delivery will cut out high-profit administrative costs, and lead to improvement in health care. Cost for individuals will shift, and its aim is to provide a better balance for all.

Where do you stand on Green Mountain Care?

Green Mountain Care is moving us in the right direction. The development process is moved along by achievement of individual "triggers," of which sustainability is one. A plan we can afford, that saves money for many more people than it burdens, will control a cost crisis, provide care for all, and improve health overall.  In aiming for a single payer system, it is important that we not rush, but that we get it right coming out of the gate. 

How do you feel about wind energy?

Wind energy sounds like a great concept, but as an attendee at local meetings for the Grandpa's Knob proposal, I became aware of the large scale consequences of ridge line proposals.  Destruction of landscape and habitat, health problems for close neighbors, and aesthetic changes to the panoramas (precious assets to Vermont) are all reasons to retreat from such sites. Open landscapes with few residents and strong prevailing winds, such as those of the Midwest, or even of close neighbors to the north and west, would seem to make better hosts for wind turbines.

What about solar and geothermal energy?

Solar energy is a great way to diversify our sources of energy. New companies which lease or sell systems that guarantee lower costs with low environmental impact offer new options for homeowners and businesses. Though we have fewer days of sunshine than many other parts of the country, this supplemental energy will reduce our reliance on nuclear plants and coal. Geothermal seems like an exceptional opportunity for new home construction.  The system itself is likely a more expensive investment, but with tight new construction and potential for one-fifth the energy costs, it may be a practical choice for properly sited homes. It may not have as many practical applications as solar, but it sounds like another option to be promoted.


What is your top priority for the district?

The top priority should be to work toward preserving our strong school programs to ensure that they survive current low enrollments. They should fill to capacity once again, contributing to vibrant communities. Education is an investment that strengthens the economy.  Current costs statewide are under control, but funding sources should be rebalanced. If this is done, Vermont can reduce reliance on property taxes. It should also take assertive measures to attract small-scale business and industry that fit in Vermont's environment.  Recognition of the importance of broadband should lead us toward new fiber-optic connectivity, and business permitting should be optimally streamlined. Our economic needs and vision are uniquely small-scale, and we need to take an active role in creating  employment opportunities whose diversity keeps us resilient. 

What is your top priority for the district?

I realize that there are many challenges in addressing our concerns, but I enjoy the process of finding common ground to move forward. To see more about my background, visit www.gallivan-for-rep.com .

Rep. Herb Russell (D)
Rutland 5-3
Rutland City

What were your chief accomplishments in the last legislative session?

I sponsored and passed copper theft legislation. It strengthens tools for police in the war on cash for drugs.

What should be the top priority for the next one?

My priority is getting the Western Rail Corridor funded and built, and get an  Amtrak run from Rutland to Burlington I initiated and organized the movement to save the Ethan Allen from Gov. Douglas' budget cuts in 2009.

How do we accomplish it?

With the support of the Governor and the Legislature.

Where do you stand on Green Mountain Care?

I support affordable health care access and our carefully constructed and well thought out legislation thus far. I will make final decision once see final cost analysis.

How do you feel about wind energy?

I am supportive when it does not overwhelm Vermont's scenic panoramas.

What about solar and geothermal energy?

I am supportive and I believe this could be vital to Rutland's economic future.

What is your top priority for your district?

Getting the Western Corridor Rail line done on a three- to five-year schedule and finally built. This can only be good, as it will bring short-term construction and long-term employment through support of small business ventures, and increased tourism to our region.