GEORGIA — In a Lake Champlain Access Television (LCATV) candidate forum for Franklin 1’s house seat held at the station’s Colchester studio, incumbent Carl Rosenquist (R – Georgia) and Democratic challenger Ed Simon found themselves at odds over how to lead Vermont’s economy.
The two Georgia natives also traded ideas on Medicaid, conservation and the opioid epidemic.
For Rosenquist, Vermont’s economic future was threatened by a “demographic tidal wave,” spurred by an aging and declining population in most of the state. According to the incumbent representative, Vermont would have to learn to “live within its means” in light of a shrinking tax base.
“I’m running for reelection because I’m concerned about how Vermont will deal with the demographic challenges we face,” Rosenquist said during his introduction. “It’s a big tidal wave coming towards us – declining student enr
ollment, declining population growth, and an aging population.”
Simon’s visions hinged more on investment than it did savings. The political newcomer suggested heavier investments in public schools, early childcare and natural resources, things that, according to Simon, would “come back to help us in the future.”
“I think you need to spend money to make money, and in our economy, we need to do a couple of things,” Simon said. “We need to make the right investments in our future and find news sources of revenue.”
Simon also said he supported raising the minimum wage to $
15 an hour, a number approved by the legislature but vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott earlier this year.
“A person who makes the minimum wage has to spend every dollar they earn back into their economy. All those dollars go back in and someone else gets it and invests it somewhere else in that economy,” Simon said. “If we grow the minimum wage, the people making the very least will still put all their money back into the economy and it’ll be a greater amount.”
“It will take a little bit from the people at the top, who don’t necessarily have to put their money back into the economy but have the ability to put it away and save it for somewhere else,” Simon continued.
According to Rosenquist, regulation provided one of the largest barriers for development in Vermont. In particular he referred to the lengthy permitting process under Act 250, Vermont’s land use regulations, as a challenge for businesses.
“It’s not that difficult, but I think many of us realize that what we’ve done in the past is that we’ve created an environment that is not friendly to businesses,” said Rosenquist, a member of the Franklin County Industrial Development Corporation’s board of directors and former board member at the Georgia Industrial Development Corporation.
He also advised that Vermont should prepare a “no growth bud
get” in light of the state’s declining population.
While Georgia, and Franklin County at large, have seen growth in recent years, the state has largely seen population growth stagnate outside of the communities neighboring Chittenden County. Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau suggest an overall loss of population since 2010.
Numbers collected by the Census Bureau also suggest that 18.5 percent of Vermont’s population is 65 years or older.
“If your population is static, where do you get more money? The good portion of the population is getting older, so they don’t have a growing income,” Rosenquist said. “I think we really need to look seriously at our priorities and do a balanced budget but, basically, a no growth budget.
“I don’t envy the people on the appropriations committee, because I know it’s a very difficult process to go ahead and make those hard de
cisions about what we do fund and don’t fund.”
Simon suggested that a taxable market could be made from the marijuana industry following the state’s legalization of recreational marijuana use.
Currently, the sale of marijuana remains illegal in Vermont.
“I think that it was a mistake to legalize without starting any new taxation and that that’s a clear source of revenue,” Simon said.
According to both candidates, affordability had proven to be the biggest issue for Georgia voters.
Simon anchored high taxes to Vermont’s education system and suggested that the state fund its schools through income taxes rather than property taxes.
“This way we can put a little bit less burden on those who make the least and put a little more burden on those who make the most,” Simon said.
Rosenquist countered, agreeing that much of the costs came from education before explaining that most of the property taxes paying for education were already tailored to income sensitivity.
Ultimately, Rosenquist said, the answers to affordability came down to loosening regulations.
“We need to curb the continued… implementation of regulations that stifle companies and stifle individuals,” Rosenquist said.
Medicaid, opioids, natural resources
The only question called-in to the candidates during the LCATV forum came from a resident asking about whether or not the candidates would support expanding Medicaid as the cost of living increased.
Simon said he’d support expanding Medicaid before stating that he’d
go farther and support the transition to a single-payer model of health insurance.
“It’s been proven that it works in other countries in Europe and Canada, and that it’s more effective. They pay a lot less for healthcare on average and they get high quality affordable healthcare,” Simon said. “I think it’s ridiculous that we spend so much money on administrative things and insurance, which are just ways to take money out of the system.”
Rosenquist was more skeptical of adopting a single-payer model, instead signaling support for the RiseVT initiative tailored toward preventative care and the state’s experiment with an “all-payer system” for Medicaid and Medicare.
“I’m not a one-payer system person,” Rosenquist said. “I think it has a tremendous amount of drawbacks and I’d like to see how this experiment goes forward.”
On the question of the opioid epidemic, Rosenquist praised the state’s response with treatment, adding that more efforts should be made to create “education and programs that should explain to people why they should get into treatment.”
He also said that more work research was needed to identify the source of the opioid epidemic, stating that the causes “are still alluding us.”
“Why so many people become addicted, I don’t really know,” Rosenquist said. “There’s a lot of theories that they become addicted because a doctor prescribes an opioid… but it’s hard to believe that that’s the only reason.”
Simon said that the state should continue building upon the “hub and spoke” model, the state’s treatment infrastructure that orients local
ized treatment providers or “spokes” around a centralized treatment center.
“I think this is an area we cannot afford to not invest more in,” Simon said. “We’re saving lives of our family, friends and neighbors.”
On the question of natural resources, Simon said that the state needed to act immediately with the agricultural community and municipalities on addressing water quality. Rosenquist, meanwhile, said the state’s response had to be balanced with the needs of the agricultural community.
“We need to find a way to properly balance the agricultural needs of the state – it’s a big industry in our state, and sort of the backbone of our
state,” Rosenquist said. “We don’t want to put farmers out of business at the expense of accomplishing our other goals.”
Rosenquist also praised farmers for their implementation of the required agricultural practices, a series of state-mandated “best practices” for the mitigation of runoff pollution from farmland.