On January 6, 2016

Gubernatorial candidates give prescriptions for fixing state’s economy

By Mike Polhamus, VTDigger.org

Gubernatorial candidates spoke Tuesday, Dec. 15, afternoon to top Vermont manufacturers and businesses at a forum presented by the Associated Industries of Vermont. AIV represents the manufacturing industry and advocates for free-market economics and limited government intervention.

The organization brought candidates Bruce Lisman, Matt Dunne, Susan Minter and Phil Scott to the Capitol Plaza in downtown Montpelier, where they delivered prepared remarks and took questions from the audience.

Candidates talked about the role manufacturing plays in Vermont’s economy—contributing about 12 percent to the state’s gross domestic product—and praised the opportunities Vermont’s manufacturing sector offers to the state’s middle-class.

Retired Wall Street executive and Republican candidate Bruce Lisman was the first to speak. He told the audience Vermonters feel a “sense of estrangement” toward their state and federal governments and the leadership of the state is “calcified.” The cost of doing business in Vermont is too high, Lisman said, putting the state’s businesses at a competitive disadvantage. Taxes, for example, have increased $650 million over the past five years, he said.

Lisman accused current government leaders of “acts of profound incompetence, and, frankly, corruption.” He promised the audience he would impose no new taxes. As governor, Lisman said he’d repeal Act 46, the education governance law enacted earlier this year. (Once an act is signed into law, however, only the Legislature can repeal it.) Lisman also promised a moratorium on the development of what he referred to as “industrial wind and solar.”

Democrat and Google executive Matt Dunne took the floor after Lisman and talked about his connection to the town of Hartland, which he said supported him as a teen, as a college student, and as a legislator.

Under his administration, the manufacturing sector would be a high priority. Dunne would assign an administrator to every manufacturer in Vermont, he said. This would ease the burdensome regulatory process companies must endure in dealings with state government, he said. Dunne would also seek to lower workers’ compensation costs by increasing the number of enforcement agents who patrol abuses of the system, he said.

The state needs to invest in the future, Dunne said, and he’d provide additional funding to technical colleges and high schools. As a former state senator, head of the Americorps program under the Clinton administration, and entrepreneur in the tech sector, Dunne said, he has the “experience to deliver on an economy of the next generation.”

Fellow Democrat Sue Minter followed Dunne’s turn at the dais, and she recounted for the audience members her experience as the daughter of a manufacturer. Her father, Bob Minter, owned Minter’s Candies in Philadelphia. In addition to sampling the product as a little girl, she learned about the challenges and stresses he faced as a businessman.

Manufacturing, she said, “plays a critical role in growing our middle class”—employing more Vermonters than any other single private sector of the economy. Manufacturing jobs, she said, pay 31 percent more than the state’s annual average wage. Minter said manufacturers also contribute to “pride in the Vermont brand,” which is associated with integrity and excellence. As governor, she would hire a point person who would encourage “a culture of innovation,” and who would support the creation of manufacturing jobs.

Minter also talked about her four-year tenure as deputy secretary and nine-month stint as secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation. She led the agency’s recovery efforts following Tropical Storm Irene. Over a four-month period, VTrans opened hundreds of miles of roadway that had been washed away in the flood. As deputy secretary, she also pushed for “innovation, customer service and excellence” at the Department of Motor Vehicles, where customers are now served within 30 minutes or less.

Lieutenant Governor and Republican Phil Scott spoke last. This election cycle, he said, would hinge on the economy. Scott described himself as a “product of vocational school” and the only candidate with a commercial driver’s license. He touted his “Everyday Jobs Tour,” in which he performed workplace duties at Vermont businesses. As part of the tour, he visited IBM, GE Aviation and Rock of Ages.

Scott adamantly opposes a proposed carbon pollution tax that is likely to come before legislators this year. Such a tax, he said, “is just another way to tax already-overburdened working families.” He also spoke against the “cloud tax” on certain types of software that the Legislature repealed earlier this year.

Like the other candidates, Scott said he’d work to grow the Vermont economy’s manufacturing sector. Manufacturers don’t brook high electricity costs, he said, and neither should Vermonters. As governor, he said, he’d pay close attention to the cost of doing business in Vermont.

As the state’s economy has stagnated, Vermont has lost 30,000 people aged 25 to 45. Scott said as governor he would try to draw 5,000 new residents a year to the state until Vermont’s population tops out at 700,000.

Scott said he would increase funding to the Vermont Training Program, which is an economic development tool whose funding primarily supports manufacturers. He’d also replenish the controversial Vermont Enterprise Fund, which gives the governor the authority to award cash incentives to businesses, Scott said. The fund was created several years ago, and does not require companies to meet job creation targets under the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive program.

Scott would also prevent the state’s budget from growing faster than the economy or wages grew in the previous year, he said. This approach would lead to a state government that serves businesses, and “that is by their side and not on their back,” he said.

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