Franklin 3-1 is a two-person district in the Vermont House of Representatives including all of St. Albans City and a portion of St. Albans Town. There are no incumbents in the district.

Jim Fitzgerald
Republican
For some time I have been concerned with the direction Vermont has taken. Members of the legislature have asked why our young people are leaving Vermont, and now we have to face the fact that many of our elderly citizens are leaving as well. The answer stares them in the face, IT IS TOO DAMN EXPENSIVE TO LIVE IN VERMONT, period. And it is getting worse everyday. I believe in a small way that if I am elected, my over 40 years of being involved with local and state government will provide me with the required direction. We must learn to live within our means; we must not approve additional taxes, and we need to review our educational costs in Vermont. But most of all the political parties must work together to achieve professional representation of the citizens they are elected to serve. I believe I know how to do that.

Kate Larose
Democrat
I believe in the power of community and making sure everyone has a place at the table. I am running because I want more of this for Saint Albans, as a citizen and as a mom raising my family here.

I have an MBA and am a gubernatorial appointee to two statewide boards. I served my country as a Peace Corps and AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer. I have worked with state departments of commerce and education managing millions in state and federal funding, and at a small business managing state and private contracts. For the past two years I have been a director of a social services program where I lead a seven member team that supports low income families and entrepreneurs to achieve their financial goals.

Mike McCarthy
Democrat
I am running for the legislature this year to help build an economy that works for everyone in Vermont. I’ve been a small business owner and I now work for one of the fastest growing companies in Vermont, helping businesses and schools save money with renewable energy. As a Representative in 2013-2014 I worked to get more of our roads up to good condition, make it easier to develop in our downtowns, and support working families with better access to childcare and quality early education.

In my current role on the St. Albans City Council I’ve been proud of the City’s leadership on water quality issues. We municipalities shouldn’t have to go it alone on funding the projects that are needed to clean up our lakes and streams. The state needs a sustainable plan for funding water quality work, and I’ll make sure that’s a top priority as a state representative.

Casey Toof
RepublicanI am running because as a lifelong St. Albans resident I see too many Vermonters struggle to live, work, and raise a family here in Vermont. Going door to door I hear far too many people tell me that their son or daughter has left the state to find a better job and a cheaper way of life. As a father of two young children, I am worried to think about what their future here brings.

This community has taught me a lot – including the need to give back. I am offering my voice because I can fight for and prioritize St. Albans values – not Burlington wishes. I will fight the opiate epidemic, I will fight for a more affordable Vermont – by opposing tax and fee increases, and I will work to bring better jobs and better access for Vermonters to go to college.

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?

Fitzgerald:
So far the state has not spent resources wisely, there have been far too many studies which in many cases sit on a bookcase somewhere. We cannot and should not raise taxes to clean our bodies of water; it is not necessary. The project to achieve this cause will require wise decisions in the future. An annual allocation in the state budget as a line item should be made and managed as all state allocations are now. The cleanup should not become a source for a plum job for people who do not have the real passion for this project to be a reality and successful. I believe this cleanup effort should be at the top of the list for every Representative and Senator of the Vermont Legislature. It will be a tough job, some Vermonters have stated openly they do not believe the cleanup is possible. But at least if we have the courage to shut down the sources of pollution now being dumped in our lakes we can slow the problem down. I believe we have that obligation.

McCarthy:
I’ve had countless conversations about concern for Lakes Champlain and Carmi with voters this summer. The state needs a sustainable funding source for water quality investments. Investing in a future without perennial blue-green algae blooms requires all of us to do a little.

We can’t put the burden on a few municipalities or farms. I’ll support a plan that makes the most of federal dollars then fills in the gaps with revenue that takes into account the ability of Vermonters to pay. In 2013 the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development showed tourism produced $318 million in tax and fee revenues and supported an estimated 30,000 jobs. Investing in our lakes is an economic development program.

I’ve been endorsed by Vermont Conservation Voters and the Vermont Sierra Club because of my commitment to lead on environmental issues.

Larose:
A clean Lake Champlain is critical to our economy and our community’s health. It is a need that we can all agree on, and it calls for across the aisle and across the watershed solutions such as the $8.4 million in federal funding approved last week thanks to the efforts of Reps. Welch (D-VT) and Stefanik (R-NY). We can also agree that—with stakes so high—the time to act is now, as the longer we wait, the more expensive the problem becomes.

In 2015, Act 64 called for a clean water report which we now have, the result of multiagency collaboration and input from over 1,000 stakeholders. Among its 92 pages it recommends bonding options, revenue sources to fill in an estimated annual funding gap of $13.8 million, and sharing the responsibility and investment in a clean Lake Champlain between state and federal governments, municipalities, and the private sector.  I suggest that we start here: https://bit.ly/2ne8k15.

Toof:
Clean water is essential to our state, especially to our local economy. I think we need to act immediately to clean up our lakes but that doesn’t mean the first thing we do is look for a new tax or fee. Vermonters are frustrated with the legislature currently because they don’t address our affordability crisis. We just watched our legislature raise property taxes in a year in which we have a significant surplus and they continue debate the carbon tax.

We need legislators who will take the time to prioritize how we spend your money. Water quality should be one of those top priorities. Addressing our affordability crisis, growing our economy, combating our opiate epidemic and cleaning our water are top priorities of mine and I will work hard to address those and in doing so do everything I can not to make Vermont less affordable for you and your family.

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?

Fitzgerald:
In my opinion there is no need to try to turn this into a Vermont cash cow. Most of the states around Vermont have their own marijuana regulations so I do not see a real big market for Vermont pot. This is a huge mistake for Vermont, even our public safety experts cautioned us not to do this. We spent huge amounts of money, and we still do to stop people from smoking, now are we saying smoking pot does not harm the lungs? It makes no sense, period.

McCarthy:
I support working with law enforcement professionals and public health experts to come up with a cannabis policy that keeps drugs away from children, provides transparency about the potency of marijuana products and offsets the cost of health and public safety efforts. Marijuana sales have been the bedrock of a black market drug economy, and the law as it stands continues to support that illicit market.

It makes no sense to have the recreational use of marijuana legal without a set of laws that regulate the sale of marijuana. The current policy is the worst of both worlds. As we work to implement a more thorough approach to marijuana, we also need to support Drug Recognition Experts and adopt highway safety policy that keeps Vermonters safe.

Larose:
I served at the Vermont Agency of Education for six years. During this time, I worked with school districts on alcohol, tobacco, and other drug prevention efforts. Though I strongly believe in decriminalization and de-carceration, I have to admit that I had concerns about what legalization might mean for youth use rates. I want to learn more about how moving forward with a regulated market could increase consumer safety and decrease youth access. We are fooling ourselves if we think legalization and regulation means that a new market will be created. The market has always been there and the war on drugs has failed us. This could provide a pathway for increased revenue to be invested in prevention, training, and highway safety. I look forward to learning more about this issue and will be hosting a community learning event on this topic soon. Details will be shared at www.katelarose.com/events.

Toof:
The legislature moved too quickly towards the full legalization of marijuana this past biennium. The biggest issue I am hearing while I’m talking to my neighbors going door to door is that they are concerned about the safety issues we will face now that marijuana is legalized, especially safety issues on the road. We don’t have an effective roadside testing method because our law enforcement officers will have a more difficult time keeping our roads safe. As the father of two young sons – public safety is a top priority for me.

Now that legalization is here, I believe we need to monitor the impact it has and see if we can further develop our testing and enforcement methods before I would support moving to a full blown retail and tax market.

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?

Fitzgerald:
I have a question where did the number $ 15.00 per hour come from? Maybe it should be$ 25.00 per hour or $ 7.00 per hour, who knows what would be fair to both the employer and to the employee. That is exactly the problem whenever you bring the government into these kind of matters. I assure you that no member of the legislature could tell you how they reach the conclusion to set the rate at any amount. Maybe it is because Bernie Sanders says it should be $ 15.00 per hour. I believe our Vermont employers are for the most part fair and reasonable, they know what their business can afford and they know what each position is worth in terms of salaries. There are of course exceptions to this and that is one of the reasons the government got involved in these matters in the first place. No, I am not in support of blindly raising the minimum wage to $ 15.00 per hour chiefly because I am not sure that is the right amount, where is the evidence?

McCarthy:
The stagnant wages of the post-recession economy have left many people out of the benefits of recent growth. While housing, energy, and healthcare costs have gone up, the lowest paid workers haven’t seen a raise. I support a phased-in increase in the minimum wage to $15/hr over several years.

Even at $15/hr the minimum wage won’t be anywhere close to a livable wage. Opponents of an increase to the minimum wage often point to possible job losses as a primary reason for their views. Public Assets Institute data shows that even if the minimum wage goes to $15/hr by 2022, the job losses would be less than 1 percent of total jobs and a fraction of the typical annual churn in Vermont jobs. Done at the right pace, raising the minimum wage puts more money in the pockets of those who need it most and will be a boost to our economy.

Larose:
Yes! Raising the minimum wage will put more money into the pockets of workers scraping to get by, bring $240 million more into our economy, and help local families to get ahead. S.40—the legislation passed by the Senate and House, but vetoed by the governor—would have gradually increased the minimum wage to $15 an hour over six years. It would have adjusted future minimum wage increases to inflation, provided a route to pay high schoolers at a lesser rate, and increased eligibility for the state’s child care financial assistance program accordingly so that families weren’t harmed. And while other benefits may be reduced — such as fuel assistance, renter rebates, or 3 Squares — the Joint Fiscal Office testified that families making minimum wage would still come out ahead. (For example, a single parent working full time with an infant would lose $436 in benefits, but gain $633 in income.)

Toof:
How we move forward with minimum wage in the State of Vermont should be done in a thoughtful manner. I will support policies that incentivize people to reach their potential and in doing so increase their income. When we consider the impact of $15 minimum wage we have to consider the whole story.  The Joint Fiscal Office testified that a $15 minimum wage could cost the state almost 3,000 jobs annually, leaving Vermont’s most vulnerable without work or without the hours they would need to make a living.

Vermont is in the middle of an affordability crisis and placing a bigger burden on those businesses is not the way to grow our economy and in turn grow Vermonter’s incomes. Ninety percent of Vermont’s employers have less than 20 employees and a $15 minimum wage would hurt those businesses. Learn more at www.caseytoof.com.

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?

Fitzgerald:
I don’t pretend to be an expert on this subject, it is indeed a tough problem. It seems that we have a surplus of milk and I am further informed that Vermont has not caused the over production. Therefore, it is apparent that this is a national problem. That is not to say we can not assist our most valued industry in Vermont. We can start by reducing the huge amount of taxes our farmers pay. Instead of approving every new tax that comes down the pike we can hold the line. The Vermont Legislature needs to pay attention to the fact that the citizens in this state are really in trouble when it comes to affordability, farmers included. We need to provide the farmers with state assistance in managing their farm business, including new procedures in reducing their business expenses. Every little bit should help.

McCarthy:
Vermont’s dairy farms are the foundation of our agricultural economy. Even here in the City, the St. Albans Co-op is one of our major employers and property owners. Vermont can’t control the price of milk or global markets but there are a number of things we can do. We can help fund the projects that are needed to improve water quality. We can keep the state’s credit rating strong so that we can help finance new equipment and diversification. The state can provide consulting services and act as a resource to farmers. We can continue to support and adapt the Current Use program to keep property taxes low for ag lands. We can support land conservation that keeps the land open. We can fund Working Lands grants that help new farms and entrepreneurs who want to return the land to active ag use. Most importantly, we need to listen to the farmers for the solutions that will keep farms working in Vermont.

Larose:
Dairy farms bring over $2 billion in economic activity to the state each year. But with more than a third of them being shuttered in the past 10 years, we are in the midst of a crisis with only a handful more than 700 farms remaining statewide. We need to act to protect this important part of our economy and heritage. I am hosting community learning tours on this topic, including to the St. Albans Creamery Coop on Thursday. (Join us!)

Federal and state governments currently offer a number of services that might be expanded including business management supports through extension services, increased access to low interest loans, the Farm First EAP program, and monetary assistance for participation in the Margin Protection Program to mitigate price fluctuations. I support increasing access to supports such as these, while also exploring the economic and market impacts of complementary business models, enhanced export programs, and break-even pricing.

Toof:
As the grandson to Ray and Gilberte Callan who owned and operated a farm in Fairfield for over 60 years, no one needs to tell me how important dairy is to our way of life. The agricultural industry is a $2.2 billion industry in the state of Vermont, and I think it is essential to Franklin County and St. Albans. For the past four years we’ve seen milk prices plummet and our farms have suffered. With companies like the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery and Ben & Jerry’s our community depends on our farmers and their farms.

Currently, there are national programs set up that are supposed to help protect farmers when milk prices are low. The consensus I’m hearing is that these programs aren’t working as well as they should be and many farms have or will close. We must protect these farms.

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?

Fitzgerald:
The problem with gun laws is that they don’t work. Chicago is a prime example. Here is a city which has very tough gun laws, but wait, look at the many homicides in that City. If some person wants to kill someone they will find a way to do it and they will get a gun if they want one. The only people that are hurt by gun legislation is the good people who obey the present laws. We need to upgrade our mental assistance for folks thinking they would want to do such a thing as kill someone. Yes, I would take a hard look at the present legislation passed recently by Vermont. I do not believe that legislation was well thought out.

McCarthy:
I support the package of reforms that were signed into law by Gov. Scott this past session. I don’t see a conflict between common sense regulations, like making all gun sales subject to background checks, and the Second Amendment. I’ve heard from many parents who are concerned about school safety as well as people who are angry about some of the regulations, especially the limits placed on magazine capacity. We need to keep the conversation moving forward and strike the right balance in Vermont between the legitimate concerns that most of us have about gun violence with the rights that all of us have to responsible gun ownership.

Larose:
We want public policies and laws that make Vermont safer. Protecting our families and communities from gun violence tops this list. I believe that supporting the second amendment goes hand-in-hand with keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people. For example, Acts 92 and 97 ensure that weapons can be temporarily removed from a home in domestic violence situations, and when people pose an extreme risk to themselves or others. Act 94 will expand background checks in private sales, and raise the purchase age to 21. These are common sense gun laws that will keep us safer. We know that no law is 100 percent effective and enforceable…for example drinking and driving is illegal, but that doesn’t stop everyone from driving while under the influence. But that is not an excuse to shy away from public policies that are known to save lives and makes us all safer

Toof:
The recent gun legislation that was passed earlier this year, most notably S.55, did not accomplish the goals they originally set out to achieve. The bill was in response to a school threat in Fair Haven but did not protect our schools. I would have not supported or voted for S.55 because the law didn’t address school safety or mental health.

The bigger issue we have as a nation today is school safety. As the father of two young children, I do get worried about my boys attending school in the next few years. School safety along with better and easier access to mental health should be our goal. I’ve seen schools around Franklin County get funds to improve their safety and I think that is a good start. Going forward, I would support measures to improve safety in our schools.

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?

Fitzgerald:
Yes I believe in this day and age young families can hardly get by with two wages, so it is necessary for both parents to work. Having said that, I do not believe the employer should be obligated to pay any of this cost. And I further believe the leave should be no longer than 90 days. In my judgement there should be no need to raise taxes in Vermont to accomplish this task. We need to reduce spending in other areas to fund this program. And I don’t want to hear reducing spending in Vermont is not possible, we all know better.

McCarthy:
Everyone needs to be able to take some time off for family at some point in their lives. Becoming a parent or having a loved one fall ill shouldn’t mean that you’re unable to pay your bills.

The Paid Family Leave bill that Gov. Scott vetoed last year would have allowed Vermont workers and employers to pool their resources through a small payroll deduction so that when a major event happens, they can take up to 12 weeks off and have the majority of their wages be replaced during their time off. We should ultimately have a national Paid Family Leave program so that the pool is bigger, and the amount low-paid workers have to put in is as small as possible.

When we look to states and countries who have already done this, the economic and social benefits are undeniable. In fact, the United States is really the only developed country that does not have a paid parental leave program and the average leave across developed countries with a program is 52 weeks. Up to an entire year! We should take this small step and adopt a modest paid family leave.

Larose:
Many of us are only one new family member, unexpected medical incident, or ailing parent away from economic tailspin. In fact, 40 percent of bankruptcies result from medical bills. A paid medical and family leave insurance program will result in a stronger workforce, healthier children, and will make Vermont a state more people want to call home.
H.196 would have created a self-funded program; workers would contribute 0.136 percent of each paycheck to the special fund managed by the Departments of Taxes and Labor. It had tri-partisan support (passing the House on a vote of 90 to 53) yet was vetoed by Governor Scott.

At a time when we are grappling for ways to keep young people from moving away, while also attracting workers to move in, I have to wonder if raising the standard of living for thousands of our neighbors—through policies such as this—isn’t the most effective.

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?

Fitzgerald:
Act 46 is full of holes and I don’t believe the Vermont Department of Education knows exactly what that act mandates, so how can the citizens of the state understand this mess? I am a strong supporter of local control and I truly believe the Franklin County school districts have worked very hard to reduce costs. In most cases, fixed costs cannot be reduced or eliminated, such as heat, lights etc. no matter what the enrollment is. In many cases Vermont Department of Education has created many expensive problems for the districts, by imposing costly unfunded programs. I have always said, ” you mandate, you fund the program.” We should also understand that the impact on our students while imposing such legislation as Act 46 can be dramatic. Lets find a better way.

McCarthy:
Act 46 was great for communities that were set up for it like Maple Run, but the off-ramps and allowances for flexibility that were key to its passage haven’t panned out for other communities. The first priority for our educational policy and any changes to Act 46 should be whether we are providing students with the highest quality education and best educational opportunities.

If schools are performing well and have low per pupil costs, they should get some flexibility when it comes to mergers. I think the legislature needs to take a look at what is happening in communities like Franklin and clarify their intent in this next session. We can save money and provide better opportunities through consolidation in many cases, but a one-size fits all approach isn’t the Vermont way.

Larose:
We have a lot to be proud of when it comes to our education system in Vermont—a direct result of our investments into education as a public good that benefits not just our communities, but our state’s economic future as a whole. Act 46 gave districts two years to explore merger options. St. Albans successfully made that transition voluntarily, and the Maple Run merger has demonstrated the positive outcomes outlined in the law: more options for students and families, a way to share personnel between schools, and over a million dollars in savings. However the fear is that forced mergers in other districts across the state might not result in the same outcomes. The law now gives the Secretary of Education and State Board of Education final say in mergers, and up to 35 local school districts are joining a law suit. It is no longer a legislative issue.

Toof:
Act 46 was an attempt by the legislature to address rising property taxes across Vermont by merging school districts. First voluntarily with a tax incentive and then what we are now seeing play out through forced mergers. What most people don’t talk about is that Act 46 initially had a spending threshold which would have penalized high spending districts which were removed by the legislature less than a year after its original passage. Meaning Act 46 as it stands today has zero cost containment mechanisms in it.

Without cost containment, there is no real reason to continue to pursue the ends of Act 46. What are they trying to address through forced mergers? If the Vermont legislature wanted to get serious about any type of consolidation in our education system, we should discuss supervisory unions. I do not believe there is a need for 65 superintendents in Vermont.

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?

Fitzgerald:
I have not seen the Blue Ribbon Commission report so I am unable to comment on their findings. However I think one of the factors creating the gap is cost of service. I am aware of many fine programs providing skilled care and professional guidance for the children. I am also aware of centers so filthy and poorly managed that many parents would not leave their dog there. I realize the state does the best it can to ensure safe and clean day care centers. However many of the centers fall between the cracks. Again some parents have heard horror stores about what goes on when the care is provided in the child’s home by some providers who just are not qualified. Not everyone has the skills to do this job on a professional basis. Certainly asking the state to pour more money into the program will not solve the problems mentioned here.

McCarthy:
I strongly support efforts to develop high-quality, affordable early care and education in Vermont. The evidence supporting the connection between high quality early education and positive life outcomes for our children is undeniable.

Making the investments in evidence-based, quality programs when children are young will save us on special ed, healthcare, corrections and other human services costs down the road. We can start by listening to providers and dial in the regulatory environment they work in, making space for safe in-home and small center childcare that providers can afford to run. We should partner with employers, as suggested by the Blue Ribbon Commission, to provide childcare so that more young families can afford to work and skilled parents stay in the workforce.

When I was in the legislature in the 2013-2104 session I was proud to vote for the legislation that created Universal Pre-K, but we still have a long way to go.

Larose
Access to affordable, high-quality child care is good for our families, our economy, and the long-term health and learning of our children. Unfortunately 98% of Franklin county infants (and 94% of toddlers) do not having access to high-quality care, and one in four new mothers have to go back to work within 10 days of the birth of their child. That means that too many Vermont parents are faced with being shut out of the workforce, or making a decision they know is not best for their family. One of the most supportive steps we can take as a state is to pass a paid family and medical leave insurance program. The next steps should then be funding the Child Care Financial Assistance Program at current market rates, increasing eligibility, investing in workforce development, and supporting providers in meeting new regulations. These are necessary investments in our future.

Toof:
As the father of two young children, child care is an issue that really hits home with me. Over the last few legislative sessions we’ve seen the legislature implement laws that have closed many home day care providers. This has forced families like mine struggle to find quality, affordable childcare. My wife and I drive to Highgate for day care every day, because we’re unable to find openings closer to home.

Policies like a carbon tax would force families to reevaluate our current day care situation.

We need to look at regulations imposed by the state which closed child care providers and allow people to make a reasonable decision on where they want to send their children. We love our day care provider, but finding something closer and cheaper would be easier on our family.

It’s time to stop over regulating and taxing in Montpelier and make Vermont more affordable.

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?

Fitzgerald:
High speed access is so important to every part of Vermont, as well as reliable cell service. This is the way we live today and it is important to the folks of the area without this service to obtain that service now. From being able to contacting friends, medical providers, as well as safety officers and purchasing goods on line, this service needs to be used by all our citizens. Vermont needs to become aggressive in dealing with contractors of this service and the contractors need to understand that they need to provide this now. The contractors need to also understand that Vermont demands that this service be provided to these areas as well as to the larger population areas and they can longer pick and choose.

McCarthy:
As with rural electrification a hundred years ago, the problem with last-mile connectivity is that there isn’t enough customer density in rural areas to entice businesses to bring new infrastructure to them. I’m excited by Christine Hallquist’s idea of encouraging the electric utilities to use their existing poles to add fiber optic internet across Vermont. Using existing rights of way and poles will dramatically bring down the cost, and the longterm financing accessible to utilities allows reasonable customer charges to cover the debt service on the fiber. Creative use of technology with innovative regulatory and financing tools is the way to bring faster internet to the places the market hasn’t been able to serve.

Larose:
In 2015 the legislature created the Division for Telecommunications and Connectivity with the passage of Act 41. The goal of the newly formed division (housed within the Department of Public Service) is to expand high-speed internet access to underserved locales in Vermont; addressing the so-called last mile of needed infrastructure. Though this is a needed task—to ensure access for remote workers, students, and even people seeking services such as telemedicine—there is no clear path to paying for such infrastructure, especially given the rural nature of Vermont and the high cost of reaching remaining homes. Several models are currently being explored: grants available through DPS using funds collected through Vermont’s Universal Service Fund, state expansion of fiber optic cable, and community-owned, subscriber-financed fiber networks. It is clear that a pure market solution will not work to address this need, as it will leave our most isolated and rural parts of the state behind. I support creative solutions that build on our community assets to connect each of us, equitably, to our future.

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?

Fitzgerald:
I believe affordability is when one can purchase goods and services without consequence, as well as examples cited in your question. That is a problem for all people of Vermont especially our young residents as well as for our senior citizens. Our senior citizens have not received any increase in their pensions for several years and generally speaking our young folks are in most cases working on the low side of the wage scale. Taxes, housing, transportation costs are hurting our citizens and the legislature needs to live within its means, no new taxes should be the name of the game.

McCarthy:
Don’t let any candidate talk about “affordability” without telling you how they’d tackle it. In my work I see many businesses who could grow faster if healthcare was more affordable and it was easier to build in the places (like downtowns) where we want development to happen. Our experience coming together in St. Albans shows that you can grow the tax base with public-private partnerships. Addressing childcare regulations that are out of whack and making state colleges more affordable are also places we can make progress in the coming session.

“Affordability” resonates with us because it taps into the pain so many of us have felt with stagnant wages and growing income inequality. Making Vermont more affordable for everyone- especially those who struggle the most- means tax fairness as well as investing in healthcare, childcare, and education. I’ll be a voice for small business and working families on these issues.

Larose:
Over the past decade median household income has barely budged. Our economy is growing, but most Vermonters are not benefiting. (Income for the top 5%, however, increased by nearly $100k annually.) The drivers of this are stagnant wages, coupled with rising housing, childcare, medical, and education costs for the bottom 95% of our state. Policy options to address this include: raising the minimum wage, paid family leave, affordable child care, eliminating benefits cliffs, increased public investment in infrastructure, higher education, healthcare, housing, and transportation, investing tax expenditures in programs that we know reduce poverty and income inequality rather than perpetuate, and ensuring that the wealthiest Vermonters—who picked up an extra $95k in annual income over the past 10 years—are paying a higher percentage in taxes than those of us who are living paycheck by paycheck to get by.

Toof:
Affordability isn’t just a buzz word, it’s the crux of the crisis facing our state today. I’ve been to over 3000 doors and the overwhelming majority have told me that not only is Vermont unaffordable, but a lot of people are looking to leave whether it is next year, 5 years, or 10 years from now. This is very concerning to me and anyone who says affordability is just a buzz word is out of touch with the reality that Vermont is too expensive.

The legislature over the past eight years under a single party rule have continued to raise our property taxes, the gas tax, and have continued to grow government spending every year. It’s time for our representation in Montpelier to start listening to Vermonters. This state is facing an affordability crisis and we need leaders who listen and who will work to get it under control.

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

Larose:
Last week, along with 500 other attendees, I attended a statewide summit hosted by the Vermont Council on Rural Development. The premise was that—to improve local economies and quality of life for the long term—we need to focus on developing leadership today. And at first this may sound odd. After all, rural development is about things like infrastructure, transportation, broadband, workforce development, and public-private partnerships. These are critically important here and around the state. And these will only come to pass when we have a leadership pipeline that will be able to sustain such systems changes in the decades to come. My experience is steeped in supporting teams to success, engaging community voice, and ensuring all are welcome at the table. Comprehensive economic development strategies, combined with leadership that is representative of all members of our community, are the path forward to rural development.

McCarthy:
In Vermont we have a strong tradition of preserving our working landscapes, sometimes at the cost of slowing down economic development. When I was in the legislature I supported Working Lands grants and development policies that encourage growth in downtowns and village centers. St. Albans has seen the benefit of fast-tracked permitting for downtown projects- where we want most development to happen.

I’m excited about the idea of using existing utility infrastructure and new financing tools to bring fiber-optic internet to rural Vermont, so that more professionals and small business owners can work remotely. Investing in this infrastructure is smarter policy than trying to incentivize remote work on an individual basis. I’ll continue to look to suggestions and data from the VT Council on Rural Development who suggest we play to our strengths with regulations favorable to industries like renewable energy, sustainable forestry and Vermont-branded foods

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

Fitzgerald:
I have lived in St. Albans my entire life where I served as a city council member, a trustee of Bellows Free Academy, a three time member of the Vermont legislature and Mayor. I further held a seat on the Vermont Transportation Board. I am a member of the American Legion Post #1, and I am a 44-year member of St. Albans Elks 1566. I enjoy public service and I hope that you will elect me to the Vermont House of Representatives on Nov. 6, 2018. With my experience in the Vermont House I will work both sides of the aisle to accomplish common goals. You may be sure I will vote with you in mind, such as opposing a hurtful carbon tax.

McCarthy:
It’s been an honor to serve Saint Albans in the legislature and on the City Council. At your doors over the last few months I’ve heard the call to invest in water quality, to end the opiate crisis, and to reduce the burden of property taxes while maintaining strong schools. Together, we can build an economy that works for Vermonters of all backgrounds.

There are complex opportunities and challenges ahead. My experience in government and business has taught me that we need to build consensus on priorities with vibrant community conversations across the state to move forward — just like we’ve done over the last decade here in St. Albans. I’m proud to have the support of my fellow City Councilors Chad Spooner and Marie Bessette, as well as former Mayor Liz Gamache. I ask for your vote and hope to serve you well.

Larose:
I believe in the power of community and making sure everyone has a place at the table. I am running because I want more of this for St Albans, as a citizen and as a mom raising my family here. I know firsthand what it’s like to struggle, to worry that college isn’t an option, to rely on food stamps. And I know firsthand what it’s like to work hard and prevail when opportunities are provided. As your next representative I will draw from my business, human services, and education background, and most importantly lead from a place of listening, learning, and bringing people together. As the only first time candidate in this race, community has been at the heart of my campaign, and it is why I don’t accept any corporate or special interest money: community will always be at the core of my service to you in Montpelier.