There are four candidates in the race to represent Franklin County and Alburgh in the Vermont Senate, two Republican and two Democrats. Two will be selected for a two-year term. Sen. Randy Brock is the only incumbent in the race, with Sen. Carolyn Branagan having chosen not to seek reelection.

Randy Brock
Republican
Vermont faces many problems, large and small. I’d like to continue addressing them, just as I’ve done during my three terms in the Senate and my time as State Auditor I’ve come to understand how state government works and how to get things done. I’ve forged strong relationships with members of all three political parties and with the Administration. Thus, I was able to successfully champion legislation that tackled high energy efficiency costs that threatened the loss of 150 well-paying Franklin county jobs. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I worked on lowering income taxes on Vermonters by $30 million, supported eliminating taxes on Social Security benefits for lower income retirees and I drafted an amendment to help improve rural cell phone coverage. Most important, I crafted the language in the 2018 tax bill that created a Tax Structure Commission to find a way to make our sales, income and property taxes fairer, more equitable and more understandable.

Pam McCarthy
Democrat
I am running because I bring leadership experience, passion, and dedication to our community. I am eager to serve. I want to use my knowledge as a nonprofit leader, Agency of Human Services Field Director in Franklin/Grand Isle, and co-owner of Cosmic Bakery and Cafe to ensure that our families are well-represented in the Vermont Senate. As a mother of four, a grandparent of five, and a caregiver for older family members, I know that we need to do all we can to support families’ health and well-being. I want to help create a clear plan for cleaning up our waterways and preserving our working landscapes, and a sustainable way to pay for that. I am committed to a well-educated workforce that has livable wages, child care that works for families and  employers, and an economy that works for all. Franklin County and Alburgh can set the standard for Vermont!

Corey Parent
Republican
Whether it is at a select board meeting in Fletcher, a door in Highgate, meeting with people in Alburgh or a school board meeting in Franklin, it is clear that the people of Franklin County and Alburgh are craving a Senator who will listen to them and be their voice in Montpelier.

I grew up in Franklin County; I’ve chosen to make it my home and the place where I am raising my family. If I earn your trust in November – I will fight for Franklin County and Alburgh – I won’t be Chittenden County’s seventh Senator. I will fight for an affordable future by pushing for more localized Government and less State Government spending. I will fight for economic growth and in doing so I will fight for our dairy farms, I’m running to be our next State Senator because we need a Senator who will listen to and be a champion for our county.

Dustin Tanner
Democrat
I am running for office because it’s time for working class folks to have a real voice in Montpelier. As someone who has grown up in a working family that lived paycheck-to-paycheck, I understand what families in Franklin County are going through. I feel I’m qualified for Senate because of my background working in a school as an IT Professional, along with being a track and volleyball coach as well as my experience growing up as a working class Vermonter.

State officials have put the cost for cleaning up Lake Champlain at $1.2 billion over 20 years. There is still no agreed upon funding source for this work. How do you think the state should fund its clean water efforts?

Brock:
The best financial options roadmap is contained in the State Treasurer’s January 2017 report. The most likely combination of revenue sources: long term bonding at the state level, limited by the need not to exceed our prudent borrowing limits; reallocation of other spending (some have suggested reducing the contribution level to Efficiency Vermont as its return on investment declines); per parcel charges (possibly focused on areas most contributing to pollution, such as impervious surfaces); local assessments both for storm water and roads; penalties for municipalities for water treatment failures; and, continued work with farmers to improve agriculture best practices. To the maximum extent possible, we should focus on repurposing existing revenue streams to minimize adding to the already high tax burden on Vermonters. We also need to continue to make the case for greater federal funding and we must encourage and incentivize industry and academia to develop innovative technological solutions.

Parent:
Investing in clean water is not only critical to our health but also to our economy. We are now investing almost 4 times more annually into water quality than we did when I entered the legislature in 2015. We do need to find a dedicated funding source for water quality moving forward. What we don’t necessarily need is a new funding source. Just as I did with Act 64 – I will push to redirect an existing funding source for water quality and not implement a new one.

We have a $65 million surplus this year and that isn’t one time money – that is actual structural tax revenue surplus. It’s intellectually lazy to think that the only way to solve this problem is with a new tax or fee. I’ll be a Senator who will explore every option out there before ever thinking about raising a tax or fee.”

McCarthy:
Here in Franklin County and Alburgh, we know all too well what is at stake with lake cleanup. Beyond closed beaches and decreased recreational opportunities, a recent study from the University of Vermont found that for every 1-meter decrease in water clarity, we lose $17 million in economic activity, and as many as 200 full-time jobs. We need a clear and sustainable path for funding lake cleanup. I believe that we should maximize the Federal contribution and leverage it with creative, long-term revenue sources that respect Vermonters’ ability to pay. We all have a vested interest in ensuring our waterways’ health, and I look forward to dedicating my time and attention to this, as a candidate endorsed by the League of Conservation voters and a resident of the Maquam Shore.

Tanner:
I would like to use revenue from a regulated cannabis market for the first 1-5 years while we figure out a long term solution to cleaning the lake. We might need to look for other sources of revenue to use as well, taxes are high as is in Vermont but an investment to our lake can pay massive dividends later. Clean water is essential to economic growth in Vermont; we might all have to pitch in for it. But in the long term, we as a county will make that money back.

Possession of a small amount of marijuana in Vermont is now legal. In your view, should the state move forward with a regulated market for marijuana or leave things as they are now?

Brock:
Many still question the wisdom of legalizing personal marijuana possession, considering the opposition by much of the medical, education and law enforcement communities. Before Vermont even considers a broader tax and regulate program, we must carefully review the public health, education and prevention, public safety and taxation implications. The governor’s Marijuana Advisory Commission’s final report is due on December 31. Let’s get the commission’s report and consider the facts during the General Assembly’s 2019 session. We should look at the realities of current consumption and the impact of legalization in neighboring jurisdictions. We must consider how Vermont municipalities could opt out. We need to examine the risk of harm to our youth, the costs involved, and whether taxation would actually increase net revenues. We must understand if there are better tests for impaired driving and how to deal with the social consequences of greater drug use. Then we must decide.

Parent:
My record on marijuana has been clear. I have continuously voted against legalization and voted against this particular bill as well. That being said – my point of view on this issue lost. Legal marijuana is here and quite frankly the way in which we did was the worst way possible.

I still have a number of concerns like roadside testing and the issues this creates with employers – which it does as I’ve heard from a handful who have already has issues with employees smoking on breaks.

Since I do not think we could put the genie back in the bottle, I would reluctantly support the taxation and regulation of marijuana. This approach would allow local communities to decide if they would allow a retail establishment and provide some revenue to the state that we could use to offset other taxes.

McCarthy:
In that the legislature has made the decision to make possession of a small amount of cannabis legal, I believe it makes sense to mindfully consider a regulated market. Quality and potency are concerns for consumers, and the potential for significant revenue for our state is real. We can learn from other states’ efforts and make well-informed choices about the best way forward for Vermont. We need to hear more from our stakeholders as we look at potential changes, including consumers, growers, health/mental health professionals, educators, the business community, municipal leaders and others. We also need to clear up inconsistencies in the “adult use” and “medical” marijuana laws and address the concerns about driving under the influence of cannabis.

Tanner:
Yes, the state should move to a full legalization model like the one in Colorado and take full advantage of the tax benefits. Using the money brought in for the education of students and to give extra resources to fight the opioid epidemic.

This past session the legislature approved a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024, which was then vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott. Do you support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour?

Brock:
Some solutions are simple, elegant and wrong. The $15 minimum wage is one of them. Studies by Vermont’s non-partisan Joint Fiscal Office suggest that the $15 minimum wage would kill 2,250 jobs every single year (2028-2040) and would lower the state’s gross domestic product. Small businesses such as such as retailers and restaurants would be particularly hard hit. The inflationary effect, as cost increases are passed on to consumers, would raise prices for every Vermonter, thus minimizing any gain from artificially inflated wages. Smaller businesses would cut hours and larger ones would accelerate automation. Seattle, which implemented the $15 minimum, has seen lower wage employees’ hours and total income decline. In Vermont, market forces are already increasing the effective minimum wage as employers must pay living wages to attract and retain good employees. As we grow the economy this is a trend that is likely to continue without government interference.

Parent:
This past legislative session I opposed raising minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024 for a number of reasons – the most important being our JFO testified that the bill would cost the State of Vermont 2,830 jobs per year and without a fix in the benefit cliff we’d actually see 7,000 families in Vermont be worse off. I don’t take these figures lightly.

I have had dozens of discussions with employers looking to hire employees today. All of which pay more than $15 per hour and they just can’t find the workers to fill those roles. We need to do a better job as a state connecting the skills of our workforce with the needs of our employers. This will allow Vermonters to build a career with a skill set that will allow them to make progressively more money as they become more specialized and get more experience.

McCarthy:
I am in favor of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. In my work in Human Services, and as co-owner of Cosmic Bakery and Café, I know all too well the struggles of people making less than a living wage. Trying to cobble together the money for housing, food, clothing, transportation, childcare, healthcare, and other necessities of daily life at $10.50 an hour is next to impossible in our economy. People are often working multiple jobs to make ends meet, and income inequality is very real. Low wages make it difficult to attract and retain good workers. I think that the increased labor costs for businesses will be offset by increased consumer spending and decreased employee turnover costs. Low-income working Vermonters deserve a better future, and I believe that raising the minimum wage is a good step in that direction.

Tanner:
Yes, Raising the Wage is WHY I am running for Senate. Hard working folks in Franklin County have gone too long with low wages, you can’t live on $10.50/hr. Not with housing and food costs, not with child and healthcare costs. It’s impossible. Raising the minimum wage would benefit over 80,000 VT workers, a big chunk of which live in Franklin County. 88 percent of minimum wage earners are older than 20, 45 percent are 40 or older. We need better Wages, it’s not the Vermont Way to let 80,000 people live in poverty.

With both dairy farmers and their vendors struggling after four years of low milk prices, what action, if any, do you think the state should take to assist farmers and other agricultural businesses?

Brock:
Dairy contributes $2.2 billion annually to Vermont’s economy, including $360 million in wages. Many other businesses, such as equipment and feed dealers are part of the farm economy. That economy is in trouble, and it’s a national problem. The Vermont Milk Commission’s 2018 report describes the kind of federal help that is needed. The state’s limited resources are insufficient to make a real difference. But there are things we can do: modify our “Made in Vermont laws” to allow the Vermont brand to include milk from Vermont cows regardless where bottled; devise tax exempt bonding to help lower the cost of farmers’ environmental upgrades; improve our agricultural marketing programs; focus more economic development activity on encouraging industries, such as cheese, yogurt and by-product producers to locate here; encourage UVM and other Vermont colleges to study ways to diversify agriculture and innovate in creating new products and more cost-efficient production methods.

Parent:
Dairy farms are critical to our economy and our way of life in Franklin County and Alburgh. Because of our dairy farms we have a strong manufacturing base in Franklin County, the dairy industry also creates critical partners and customers for our bankers, accountants, car and equipment dealerships. Simply put – our economy depends on dairy.

Franklin County and Alburgh need leaders in Montpelier who understand the importance of dairy and fight against those from cities like Burlington and Brattleboro – who quite honestly just don’t get it. If elected to the Senate, I will request to assigned to the Senate Agriculture committee where I will work to improve and modernize our right to farm laws, push the Agency of Agriculture to work with our federal delegation on a farm bill and I will work to reduce burdensome taxes, fees and regulations to help reduce the cost of production of milk.

McCarthy:
These are very challenging times for our farm families and for the vendors who are connected with agriculture.

I believe the state of Vermont has an obligation to get more involved, not only with the price being paid for milk, but with the way the system is set up at the federal level. I believe that our farmers’ voices, amplified by an engaged Administration and Legislature, could influence policy changes that could preserve the best of our farms’ traditions, promote environmentally and economically sound practices, and ensure that the milk and other agricultural products we produce reach the market and reward farmers with a reliable and sustainable income.

We may want to better incentivize Vermont farmers’ best practice and entrepreneurial efforts at the state level, knowing that the Feds move at a glacial pace, and that advocacy takes time. We cannot afford to lose this vital part of Vermont’s economy.

Tanner:
I understand the struggle of low milk prices. Coming from a family whose farm went under I’ve seen first hand the effect milk prices have, I would push to give farmers more education about programs such as the federal dairy price protection program. I would also support programs to help farmers diversify their crops. I would like to also look north and see if we can adopt something like Canada has, because a system like that could help Vermont Farmers a lot.

Do you believe the gun laws passed by the legislature this past session need to be reversed, will work just as they are, or that additional measures are required?

Brock:
All of us were horrified by the recent mass killings in Florida and the near miss in Vermont. We must ensure that our kids can go to school without fear. That’s why I voted for S.221 and H.422, bi-partisan bills that keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them, while also maintaining the Constitutional rights of gun owners. In the Senate, both bills got unanimous votes, as well as full support from both sides: NRA gun rights supporters and gun control advocates. I voted against the third bill that was passed, S.55. It infringed on the constitutional rights of thousands of law-abiding Vermonters, without any evidence that it would prevent future acts of violence. Here our efforts would have been much better directed at identifying threats, enhancing security of our schools, improving our mental health system and enforcing laws already on the books.

Parent:
To answer this question appropriately, you have to understand the problem that is trying to be solved. This past spring in response to the Fair Haven threat the legislature passed S.55. Do I believe that S.55 would have stopped a threat like in Fair Haven? I do not, and that is why I did not vote for S.55.

We all want our schools and our communities to be safe. S.55 accomplishes none of that. What we do need to do as a legislature is have a serious discussion surrounding how to treat mental health and school safety. We started that by putting millions of dollars into the capital bill to help provide safety grants to schools across Vermont. I believe we should also sit down with law enforcement, public health, and school officials to develop a series of best practices for preventing school violence.

McCarthy:
I agree with lawmakers’ decisions to support public health and public safety in response to America’s increasing gun violence, and especially the thwarted school shooting here in Vermont in February. The world is changing rapidly, and we are being called upon to think more deeply about how best to respond, especially when Vermonters’ lives and ways of living are in the balance. Across the nation, young people are asking us to step up, and to consider their perspectives about guns and safety. I believe that we can address growing concerns about gun violence and safety and have continuing responsible gun ownership in our state. I think we need to see how implementation of the new gun laws proceeds. We need to continue to listen to one another’s diverse opinions, especially about effective school safety measures and domestic violence prevention. Together, we can find the right balance for our communities.

Last session, the General Assembly approved a bill which would have used a payroll tax to create a paid family leave system. Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the bill. Should Vermont offer paid family leave? If so, how should we pay for it?

Brock:
I believe strongly in family leave programs. There is a clear need for these programs for new parents and those with ailing family members. But Vermonters simply cannot afford higher taxes, even for a good thing. This year, the General Assembly passed H.196, the bill vetoed by the Governor. The bill would have created a 12 week family leave program funded by a payroll tax of 0.136 percent on the first $150,000.00 of each employee’s wages. The projected costs of the program clearly were under-estimated. The program would soon operate in the red and would require even higher taxes. There were also concerns that it would encourage some large employers that already had such programs to discontinue them in favor of the taxpayer-funded benefit. Next year we should consider the creating a voluntary insurance program that might offer some of the benefits without imposing the tax mandates of H.196.

Parent:
The proposal we saw in the legislature was to raise taxes to 0.014 percent to pay for paid family leave. For an individual making $50,000 per year that would be a tax increase of $70 per year. Not bad right? However, the benefit that individual could get would be roughly $3,500 per year. That would require 49.5 years of working to cover the cost of one six-week leave. Now – let’s play this out. My wife and I – we’re young, just had our first child and plan on having a second. We’d take this leave twice for our children, not to mention leave to care for our four parents as they age. If people took 12 weeks over our lifetime we’d need to work 99 years of paying the tax to cover their cost. The numbers didn’t pass the sniff test for me and because of that I couldn’t support the bill.

McCarthy:
I would prefer that paid family leave be supported on the national level, but feel it is a critical piece of ensuring families’ stability that Vermont should support now, especially given our desire to attract younger workers and their families to our state, and to keep those who are employed here in Vermont. For the states that already have paid family leave, it is proving to be beneficial to both workers and employers.

As far as funding and implementation, H.196 proposed a 0.136% employee payroll deduction — just under $70 a year for a person making $50,000 — and gave employers the option to pay the contribution on behalf of employees. The insurance program would have offered Vermonters 70 percent wage replacement – up to $1,042.40 each week – during their leave. I respect the work done by the legislature and believe the paid family leave bill should have been signed by the Governor.

Tanner:

Yes, we need to pass family leave as soon as possible, H.196 was the correct way to do so, the benefits of paid family leave will be felt by all of us. I was very disappointed when Gov. Scott vetoed the bill, having to take unpaid leave when a family member passes or gets sick can lead to some major economic hardship down the road. This bill would help everyone, and attract young people to Vermont.

The period for voluntary mergers under Act 46 is coming to a close, and some communities facing a mandated merger of their school district are deeply unhappy. Should the state continue on the course it set when Act 46 passed, particularly since districts across the state merged voluntarily under the rules established with Act 46, or should changes be made to accommodate those who are unhappy over potential district mergers?

Brock:
Local control of schools, long a Vermont tradition, is being steadily eroded. But the promised savings and improved quality remain elusive. Local schools are the heart of many rural communities and people are invested heavily in their local schools. Act 46’s safety valve to provide reasonable exceptions to forced mergers is not working. The case for alternatives presented by districts throughout the state has been compelling. Smaller schools can provide a quality education with a robust range of courses without consolidation. Distance learning and virtual mergers, included in my amendment to Act 153 in 2010, are just two of the ways. More important, virtual mergers could be easily unwound if they did not work. We need to amend Act 46 to make it clear that mergers are fine if communities want them, but that absent compelling financial or education equity problems, the state should give substantial deference to local wishes.

Parent:
The State should not continue course with involuntary mergers as prescribed in Act 46. For some communities, the mergers under Act 46 made sense – like in St. Albans were the voters voluntarily merged. Those communities were rewarded for it through temporary tax incentives – which as it turned out caused the statewide tax rate to increase so the incentives were never fully realized by taxpayers.

For much of the rest of Franklin County Act 46 does not make sense, and the voters of those towns have made that clear. These schools are low spending and do a great job of educating their students. If we could run every school in Vermont as well as Franklin does we’d spend hundreds of millions less as a state and get better results.

My political philosophy is that more localized government is the preferred route as government closer to the people governs best.

McCarthy:
The intent of Act 46 is to provide a quality education with a variety of educational opportunities to all students, at a cost that maximizes operational efficiencies and gives schools the flexibility to manage, share and transfer resources. The idea of forced mergers seems contrary to what is necessary to a merger’s success: clear communication, connection, and collaboration. The Agency of Ed has noted that “without the commitment of the communities to create a new definition of ‘us,’ potential opportunities will not be realized and unification may be blamed for any encountered difficulties.” I think it is critical for the State Board of Education to listen to what the real and/or perceived barriers are for the districts that didn’t merge, and what they propose to do to meet the intent of the law. It’s tremendously difficult to compromise when people feel they are not heard and respected for their input.

Last year, Vermont’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care found that almost half of Vermont’s infants and toddlers with working parents are not in a regulated child care program either in a center or at home. What, if anything, should the state do to address the gap between available child care slots and need?

Brock:
First, we should bolster the availability and viability of the hundreds of small, generally women-owned businesses that have been the cornerstone of child care in Vermont. These providers historically have provided families with choice and lower cost. Just as Vermont assists businesses through loan and workforce development programs, these struggling entrepreneurs can use help in training, quality improvement and creation of tools, curriculum and programs. Second, we should ensure that our aid programs for low-income working parents recognize that child care is essential in helping people escape dependency. But we must focus our limited resources on the truly needy, and avoid creating another huge unfunded burden on strapped taxpayers. Third, we need to ensure that our benefit programs encourage work. A first step would smooth out the so-called “benefits cliff,” which provides a disincentive to take an entry level job for fear of losing child care and other critical services.

Parent:
Like with so many causes to our affordability crisis many of these issues are the result of well-intended policies that ended up having a negative impact. Vermont has increased the cost of providing care by increasing costs and regulations. I’m not saying that we don’t regulate the industry – but we can work to find a happy medium that allows more home daycares to thrive.

Regulations and high taxes have placed tremendous burdens on Vermont’s economy as a whole. I don’t think we address our lack of affordable childcare in Vermont or our affordability crisis more broadly with more of the same attitude in the legislature. We need to look at what is currently on the books, ask ourselves what is critical to child safety and development, then remove what isn’t, so more people can decide to pursue this business which will increase opportunities for young families to have childcare.

McCarthy:
Vermont needs to close the nearly 10M gap in the Child Care Financial Assistance Program. We need to be sure that early care, health, and education providers make a livable wage, have the resources they need for required professional development, and that they are recognized as the essential workforce they are. We need to think more expansively about how childcare links to public education and school success, and consider the possibility of full service and community schools. We need to understand how paid family leave intersects with the lack of infant care, and how that might reduce some pressure on families and the system. As someone who has worked in early childhood and human services for over 30 years, I will continue to strive to create a system that is affordable and accessible, leverages resources, provides access to high-quality child development programs, and ensures better outcomes for all Vermont children.

Tanner:

Childcare is a big piece of our economy, without affordable childcare we can’t build a strong workforce. I think the government can do a few things to make childcare more accessible, We can work with providers on making or becoming a regulated program easier. We can also work on grants that help early care providers get seed money to start a program, along with scholarships/grants for those who attend local colleges with intent to go into childcare. We should also do more outreach for services that are currently available. By putting resources into child care we can build our economy and attract more people to Vermont.

Connectivity — access to high speed internet and cell phone service — is limited in many parts of the state and efforts to provide that access have, thus far, not been entirely successful. What do you think the state should do to bring internet and cell phone access to rural areas?

Brock:
Last week I was named chair of the newly-formed Joint Information Technology Oversight Committee. The committee, composed of three members each from the House and the Senate, was created in the 2018 session. The committee is charged with overseeing investments in and use of information technology in Vermont, including telecommunications. Successive state leaders have promised to extend internet and cell service throughout Vermont, but these efforts have fallen short. As a result of federal deregulation, the state has no jurisdiction over services such as cell phone and internet. Vermont has failed to produce the legislatively-required three year update of its telecommunications plan last due in 2017. Our state-owed rural cell phone system is in disarray and no longer operable. Satellite solutions offer the potential for coverage, but the technology is not there yet. Vermont must consider new approaches, such as partnering with electric utilities to expand connectivity using their infrastructure.

Parent:
Being a rural state, Vermont faces many challenges to expand broadband and overall connectivity to every square inch in Vermont. There are areas for improvement that can be made from a public policy standpoint but long-term sustained access to the internet in rural areas will largely depend on technological advancements in the private economy.

We need to get creative when it comes to building out broadband across Vermont. I think it will take a multifaceted approach between public and private entities to make it happen. One of the best models of rural fiber deployment I’ve seen is EC Fiber which services the Norwich area. Other states are allowing local entities to form like co-ops to form and this past year in New Hampshire – their legislature approved local governing bodies such as co-ops and municipalities to bond for broadband build out.

McCarthy:
If we are to attract businesses and new workers to Vermont and keep those we have here, we must improve access to high-speed internet and cell service throughout the state. I think we need to continue to invest in efforts to make this happen. I am intrigued by Christine Hallquist’s ideas about piggybacking new fast fiber optic internet service on existing utility lines to better connect Vermont businesses to the world. I think we need to take a serious look at what it would take to implement a plan like hers, given other states’ experiences. As for cell phone service, I  think that the expansion of broadband may influence cell service improvements as well, especially to rural areas. I have hope for public-private partnerships that can greatly increase connectivity across Vermont.

Tanner:

High-Speed internet is very important to our whole state, fast & reliable internet can be used to help everyone. The state should explore all options possible to get everyone internet. I would look at CO-OP Based programs run by local people, not massive companies, we have wasted a lot of money handing it (Money) to organizations that didn’t follow through, I think there is some value in an “Internet Co-Op” ran by Vermonters.

Affordability has become a buzz word in Vermont politics, with a suggestion that either a high cost of living, high taxes or both make Vermont unaffordable, driving out young families and those on fixed incomes. Do you think this is an accurate view? Would you define affordability differently?

Brock:

The numbers tell the story. Last year, Vermont’s median income fell by 2.4 percent compared to a 2.5 percent national increase. Only one other state, Alaska, declined more. Our state tax burden, $4,917 in FY2016, is the second highest in the country. We have America’s fifth highest property tax rate. Top marginal tax rates for both individuals and corporations are among the highest in the USA and per capita taxes are higher than the USA average. Housing, heating and fuel costs are high and affordable housing is scare. Electricity rates are high when compared nationally. All of this equates to a crisis of affordability, especially for lower income families. But there is hope. Government streamlining, smarter regulation, increasing the size of our workforce, and implementing many of the goals of Vermont 2020, the state’s Comprehensive Economy Development Strategy, point to how we can make Vermont more affordable for all of us.

Parent:
Anyone who says Affordability is a buzzword hasn’t been out talking to Vermonters – or clearly hasn’t listened to them. I am confident that not one person on the ballot has knocked on as many doors as I have the last couple of years. I can tell you without hesitation that the number one thing I’ve heard is – “I just can’t afford to live here anymore.”

Under Shap Smith’s and Peter Shumlin’s supermajority, The Legislature increased taxes on Vermonters to the tune of over $750,000,000. They raised taxes on everything from your property to the gas tax. During that same time, we saw our workforce decline from about 361,000 to under 348,000 or about 14,000 workers. Too much government spending and taxes have made Vermont unaffordable. Asking those who supported these policies in the past to fix this mess is asking the fox to guard the hen house.

McCarthy:
Vermont has its economic challenges. Housing is more expensive than many can afford. Many jobs cannot provide enough income to afford housing, healthcare, and other basic needs. Child care and elder care costs are creating pressures at both ends of many families’ lives. Quality education that prepares our children for the future is costly.

These are necessary investments, not only for those of us who live here, but for new residents we are trying to attract and keep. If we have affordable housing, employment that pays a livable wage, quality education and care, clean water and beautiful working landscapes, I believe that Vermont can attract and keep people who will contribute to the growth and prosperity of communities throughout the state for years to come.

We need to challenge ourselves to do more and better with what we have. Let’s support decision makers to create an economy that works for everyone.

Tanner:
Affordability is a buzzword that distracts from the real problem. Young families aren’t leaving because of taxes, in a lot of cases they don’t even own homes because they aren’t making enough money; they are leaving because you can leave Vermont and make two sometimes three times the money. If we work to raise wages statewide things will become more affordable; if we cut taxes we will have to pay extra later when things we skimp on come back to bite us. Affordability is when wages pay enough to cover the cost of living. Lowering taxes won’t magically make Vermont better. It just costs more in the long run.

Every candidate agrees there’s a need for rural development in our communities. How specifically would you facilitate rural development?

Brock:

Vermont’s rural economic development efforts must promote agricultural exports, support local food production that keep wealth in rural communities, attract new manufacturers that use our agricultural products, and incentivize landowners to protect our environment. We must improve our infrastructure, including our roads, bridges and highways and we must ensure that cell phone and broadband reaches all of Vermont. We must continue to expand our green energy sector, by encouraging the promotion of technologies that cannot be easily exported. Since rural Vermont is the heart of the state’s tourist and recreational sector, we must protect our natural resources, clean up our lakes and promote recreational uses like hunting, fishing and other activities, through which we create and maintain thousands of jobs. Lastly, we must continue to strengthen farm income by investing in critical research to ensure our farmers remain world leaders in providing a reliable, cheap, safe and abundant food supply

Parent:
Economic development whether it is rural or not comes down to making Vermont more affordable. If we are not an affordable place to do business or live – we will struggle to attract employers and the employees they need. This past legislative session I was able to champion a proposal from Governor Scott’s administration through my committee and ultimately into law that will allow companies like West Rock much more flexibility in how they invest their Efficiency Vermont charge. This is still a charge they don’t have to pay in any other state. We also need to focus on providing support to our dairy industry. There is no more significant driver of economic development in our rural areas than the dairy industry and agriculture as a whole. Growing our economy will be one of my top priorities in the Senate, and we can do it by making Vermont more affordable.

McCarthy:
I have been impressed by the efforts of the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) to go to communities, sit with stakeholders and decision-makers and help develop actionable plans for rural development. This week, I sat in on the Swanton Energy Initiative conversations, and saw the promise of that community’s self-generated ideas for their own community development, rooted in their unique energy profile. Saturday, I spent time with the Enosburgh Initiative’s walking tour to gather feedback about building on existing strengths in that community, and making it a destination for more people, near and far. Opportunities for residents and their local government to dream big together, much as the City of St. Albans has over the past few years, can result in wonderful new realities for our communities! I think we should couple community leadership with resources like VCRD to make grassroots rural development a success throughout Vermont.

Tanner:
I would look to facilitate rural development by modernizing Franklin County, bringing in high speed Internet and looking at ways we can improve our infrastructure, and attracting a different kind of business. “If you build it they will come” would be my approach, I would also look for ways to make permitting more efficient and cost effective, while not sacrificing what makes Franklin County a great place to live.

Candidates were asked to make their final, brief pitch to voters.

McCarthy:
What a privilege it is to run for office, especially in our corner of Vermont. As I’ve campaigned across Franklin County and Alburgh I have been heartened by the response from voters. In the whirlwind of campaigning, it is good to reflect on what a gift it is to serve our community. As a fully engaged parent, I have worked as a home visitor in Alburgh, a Parent Child Center Director and Agency of Human Services Field Director in Franklin/Grand Isle, and as co-owner of Cosmic Bakery in St. Albans.

I am honored to be considered as your Senator. I believe my experience will serve you well, should you elect me. I am excited to have diverse endorsements, from State Sen. Carolyn Branagan to US Sen. Bernie Sanders. I feel I can represent everyone by listening well, collaborating effectively, and acting with integrity. I ask for your vote Nov. 6.

Parent:
From the hills of Fletcher to the shores of Alburgh, from the Quebec border to the Georgia/Milton line, I will forever cherish the opportunity to get to all of you better.

The people of Franklin County and Alburgh need a Senator who will roll up their sleeves and get to work, one who will prioritize our values and carry our collective voice to the Senate, and a Senator who will bring a new generation of leadership to the Senate.

Vermont is at a crossroads, we can double down on the tired policies of more spending and more taxes, or we can choose a new direction. One that won’t be easy but one if we go in with eyes wide open will lead us to a more affordable and prosperous future. I am confident that together, we can make this our Vermont.

I humbly ask for your vote on November 6th.

Tanner:
I am someone who has spent his entire life trying to reach normal. I’ve never had the advantage in life. The list of folks who have helped me get to where I am is very long; it took a village to raise me, and that is why I’m running, not because I want to be a career politician, but because I need to give back to the village. It’s my turn to do everything I can to give back. If anyone in this race understands affordability and how hard it is to make it in Vermont it would be me, the kid who grew up poor and who to this day is still working to get himself out of poverty. I’m ready to work for Franklin County & Alburgh, I will listen to you, and help us all get to the top of the hill.

Brock:
I’m honored to be serving in my third term in the Vermont State Senate. Despite the challenges, it’s a great place to do important things that help Vermonters and strengthen our state. In the 2018 session, I fought to make Vermont more affordable. I worked hard to help keep homestead property tax rates flat, to eliminate state taxes on Social Security for thousands of Vermonters and to lower state income tax rates across the board. But I’m especially happy to have a job that lets me make a difference in the lives of individual Vermonters who need help in navigating state government. I’ve spoken to hundreds of citizens concerned about issues like jobs, the economy, the 2d Amendment, veterans’ needs, taxes and the need to improve water quality in our lakes. But, there is so much more to be done and I want to be a part of doing it.