Felisha Leffler
Republican

I am running for office because I strongly believe that Enosburgh and Montgomery deserve a representative that will genuinely listen to them and stand for the issues and concerns of their constituents.

I am running because I have a passion for good governance and my home. I am a college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in government. I have worked on several campaigns in various roles to help other leaders get elected. I have written and reviewed policy proposals both for the immediate purpose they will serve, as well as analyzing for the long-term effects and often unintended consequences. I see challenges facing our state, and I know that I am currently in the right circumstances to put myself forward as an advocate for a safer, more affordable Vermont. If you’d like to know more than 150 words about me, please visit felishaleffler.com or call 782-9084.

Cindy Weed
Democrat/Progessive

I seek reelection as state representative for Enosburg/Montgomery to continue to be a strong/effective voice for working Vermonters, children, seniors, veterans and the disabled.

In Montpelier, I have a proven track record of getting things done. As a Progressive/Democratic representative in the 2013/2014 and 2017-2018 legislative bienniums, I helped pass important legislation including equal pay for women, higher minimum wage, GMO labeling, workforce development/job creation, banning chemicals in children’s products, and protecting water resources.

I have a 100 percent voting record on labor and environmental issues, am co-chair of the Workers Caucus, and member of the Climate Caucus. I have help scores of individuals solve tough government issues.

I refuse corporate or out-of-state hate money but instead put voters’ interests first. I will fight to: reform our education financing system via income taxes instead of property taxes, eliminate income inequality, fight for civil/social rights, and end discrimination, racism, sexism, misogyny, and xenophobia.

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?

Leffler:
There is no doubt that clean water is a priority for every Vermonter. Finding and dedicating responsible funding over the next twenty years seems to be difficult. However, when it’s broken down into cost per year, the figure is $60 million, which based on this year’s budget is roughly only 1 percent of the state budget.

The state should fund clean water efforts by ensuring a business-friendly Vermont that will help with career and job generation and contributes to economic growth. That revenue from growth, not taxes, should be how we fund our clean water efforts. We know this is possible since this year’s surplus came in at $55 million. This will remove the burden from our property taxes and sustainably ensure funding for clean water while simultaneously fostering a better economy. We have a beautiful state, full of opportunity and promise.

Considering the current proposals, this is the best yet.

Weed:
Although federal funding and other sources will help to cover costs, and short-term funding is now being used from the capital bill to pay for construction projects, more funds must be dedicated to clean water in the future. At the beginning of the legislative session, we were presented with a menu of possible funding sources from which we might consider. I cannot say, though, at this time which source would be the best without further information. I do know that our public health and fish population depends of it, as well as our economy, especially around tourism and attracting people to live and work in Vermont. The Vermont Chamber of Commerce notes, “Vermont’s heritage of natural landscape and community life are as essential to Vermont’s economic future as to its history.”

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?

Leffler:
Personal liberty is something that I believe in above most anything else. Vermont is in a difficult situation in some ways because of legalizing personal possession but not sales. If Vermont were to legalize the sale of cannabis, it is still federally illegal. That creates several issues with safety and regulation of the market as seen in other states. Cannabis is a cash-based industry because FDIC banks cannot house drug money. There is difficulty in combating underage use, particularly with edibles. Most importantly, we need a way to keep our roadways safe. While a legal market that would boost revenues sounds promising, Vermonters deserve caution moving forward to ensure all aspects of the law are properly evaluated before implemented. I know we have the time to do this right, if we can find reasonable solutions to these, I’d be amenable to the tax and regulate model. Learn more: felishaleffler.com

Weed:
Yes, the state should move forward with a tax and regulate market for marijuana because it would help eliminate the black market, ensure a safer product for adults, and generate millions of dollars in income. The income from sales would regulate the marijuana industry, help fund drug prevention and treatment programs, help fund the state’s education system, help clean up the state’s water resources, generate jobs, commerce and economic development, and support the agricultural economy. I think that marijuana should be removed from the criminal justice system completely and regulated like alcohol and tobacco. Also, criminalization of marijuana use disproportionately harms young people and people of color, sponsors massive levels of violence and corruption, and actually fails to curb youth access!

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?

Leffler:
I was fortunate enough to visit Montpelier this year while this bill was debated. Vermont is already unique regarding its minimum wage. When the last increase was passed in 2014, a CPI  increase was factored in so that the minimum wage would increase yearly, as it did THIS YEAR.

To raise the minimum wage this quickly and dramatically will harm our businesses big and small, many of which already do their best to provide good wages and appropriate increases as needed and as they can afford. We decided on a yearly increase to keep up with inflation and protect workers. We haven’t even had time to see how the market reflects these changes. These reasons, and more I don’t have the space to articulate, are why raising the minimum wage by 2024 is dangerous to our economy, small businesses, and the jobs we worked hard to create and retain.

Weed
As co-chair of the Legislative Workers Caucus, I support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024 and voted for the bill. For the last 30 years, the minimum wage has been stagnant ($7.25 nationally/$10.50 in VT) while production has gone up. Workers and their families cannot live on this amount. If the minimum wage had kept pace with the cost of living it would be over $20 hour now.

When minimum wage is increased, it helps lift people out of poverty and stimulates the economy because minimum wage workers spend their discretionary funds locally. Also, state government regularly subsidizes low wage workers and their families with health care, child care, food, renters rebate and a host of other necessities which cost taxpayers money. I think an employer is responsible for paying workers a decent wage and benefits instead of the state paying for workers benefits.

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 do to assist farmers and other agricultural businesses?

Leffler
The dairy industry is no doubt the economic backbone of Franklin County. That makes it all the more frustrating to see friends and neighbors working tirelessly and losing money. I’ve had the chance to speak to several farmers, current and retired, as well as many whose businesses revolve around dairy. Overwhelmingly the response is that low milk prices aren’t a Vermont caused problem, and there isn’t a direct Vermont sponsored solution.

To answer the question bluntly; Vermont should not be involved with the pricing or payment that farmers receive. This is a market issue based on supply and demand and current prices reflect several things, the EU removing its quota system is a very large example. The market will correct itself and if not then it is a federal policy, not state needed. There are more ways to help our farms that Vermont should be focusing on first.

Weed:
In the January report from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, the Vermont Milk Commission makes many complex recommendations for the 2018 Federal Farm Bill around Class I Fluid Milk Pricing that would assist dairy farmers and the dairy industry in Vermont. Milk pricing is a complex issue. The actual minimum price received by the farmer is a blend of these prices weighted by the percentage of the milk used in each of the four classes. Local agriculture experts also believe that industry could also promote higher solids/components, fat and protein and encourage less volume milk production. Right now, on the national and local level, the practice is dumping milk into manure pits because they cannot handle the volume but milk dumping is closely monitored. The price farmers receive for raw unprocessed, unpasteurized milk is largely determined by supply and demand forces that are influenced by federal and state dairy programs.

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?

Weed:
I do not think that we need any additional gun safety legislation at this time. If any more was needed it would have been propose last session. According to studies, including the Rand Report (https://www.rand.org/topics/), these measures will help reduce gun violence including accidents and suicide.

To clarify the misunderstandings circulating, there ARE also provisions allowing those under 21 to purchase firearms! Aside from having a parent accompanying a youth at the time of purchase, other exceptions are: (1) a law enforcement officer; (2) an active or veteran member of the Vermont National Guard, of the National Guard of another state, or of the U.S. Armed Forces; (3) a person who provides the seller with a certificate of satisfactory completion of a hunter safety course in Vermont or elsewhere, or an equivalent hunter safety course that is approved by the Commissioner.

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?

Weed:
Last year, the bill H.196 passed both the Vermont Senate and House -and I voted for it- but Gov. Scott ultimately vetoed it. The legislation allowed employees to be paid 70 percent of their wages for a maximum of 12 weeks of combined parental leave, or six weeks of family leave, for an illness in the family. The state-administered program would be funded by the employees, with an increase in the payroll tax of 0.136 percent. Had it passed, Vermont would have become the sixth state to have a paid family leave program.

While in committee, employees testified that this very small tax would be beneficial when they need to take care of a loved one in crisis. Without this benefit, workers could lose their jobs. Employees felt that tax was a small price to pay for this type of assurance/insurance. It would not cost employers a cent.

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?

Weed:
The school districts in my Franklin-7 legislative district held ACT 46 votes and voted NOT to merge their schools’ governance structures. After attending several ACT 46 Montgomery school board meetings last December, then a meeting in Franklin, the Enosburg/Richford meeting, a meeting at the Abbey with LG. Zuckerman, writing a letter to the state board, and speaking by phone to Krista Hulling in order to support my districts votes not to merge, I believe the state board should honor these community votes and allow the Alternative Governance Structure that was built into the law.

As lawmakers, we create legislation in order to solve problems. For these school districts, there is no problem to solve. The opposite is more likely to occur: a forced merger could hinder the schools’ ability to meet the goals of ACT 46, create hostilities, and possibly devastate these wonderful schools and communities.

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?

Leffler:
Affordable childcare in Vermont comes back to the overwhelming affordability issues in our state. In 2016, when a 116 page manual of new regulations was passed down, Vermont saw a net loss of over 51 daycare centers within the first six months. Those centers closing meant that over 500 available slots for children disappeared. Affordability is a reflection of many things, including availability and operational cost/burden. How can we cry foul at the cost when the state pushed providers out of business and made each slot for childcare that much more competitive and expensive?

I would facilitate more affordable childcare by calling for a review of the regulations and requirements by the state of child care centers to better achieve the necessary balance to promote growth in the number of childcare centers as well as the quality and cost-effectiveness for both parents and business owners.

Weed:
A lack of quality, affordable child care disproportionately impacts women, three times more likely to leave their careers than men when families can’t find child care. This has a negative ripple effect on our businesses, schools, communities, health care system and the economy as a whole. With a shortage of early educators already, the field has become more professional and requires staff and employees to have more early childhood education training/college degrees and/or certifications. This can burden the current staff (time and money for education), or/or newcomers, with little return in higher wages. The median annual income for a child care worker in Vermont is $26,440—often without benefits, so raising minimum wage could help. Vermonters wanting to earn a degree can engage in credit-bearing classes like Assessment of Prior Learning at Community College of Vermont. Vermont needs to attract more young families to Vermont so child care needs to be a priority.

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?

Weed:
I think the state should partner with the private sector and invest in high speed internet and cell phone service throughout Vermont because it is an integral component of a strong economy. If the state is serious about attracting working families to Vermont, then it should direct some of its economic resources into bringing high speed internet and cell phone service to every corner of Vermont.

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?

Weed:
The definition of affordability is: To have the financial means for; bear the cost of.

Our minimum wage has been pretty stagnant for 30 years -$7.25 nationally/$10.50 in VT- while production, CEO pay, and the cost of living has skyrocketed. Had the minimum wage risen with the cost of living since 1968, it would be over $20 hour now. Employees working for 40 hours a week cannot pay $800-1,000 a month rent plus transportation, food and clothes, and health insurance.

The VT legislature recently passed a $15 per hour by 2024 minimum wage bill. Unfortunately, it was vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott.

A higher minimum wage helps lift people out of poverty, stimulates the economy and alleviates the pressure on the state to pay for worker subsidies for health care, child care, food, renters rebate. In my view, employers should be paying workers both a livable wage and benefits.

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

Weed:
I am happy to be currently involved with both towns in my district around local economic development initiatives. The Enosburg Initiative, with Jim Cameron at the helm, meets regularly plus the Town of Enosburg just received a large planning grant. Montgomery Thrives is working with Paul Costello and the Vermont Council on Rural Vermont on their own economic development initiative.

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

Weed:
As your re-elected state representative for Enosburg and Montgomery, I will continue to be a strong voice for working Vermonters, children, seniors, veterans and the disabled. While serving as a Progressive/Democratic representative in the 2013/2014 and 2017/2018 legislative bienniums, I helped pass important legislation including: funding a Primary Health Care study, equal pay for women, raising the minimum wage, GMO labeling, workforce development/job creation, banning chemicals in children’s products and protecting water resources. Plus, I have a 100% voting record on both labor and environmental issues, am co-chair of the Workers Caucus and a member of the Climate Caucus and have helped scores of constituents solve problems relating to state government. I do not take ANY corporate donations so voters can be assured that I will put their interests first and work to eliminate income inequality, fight for civil and social rights, and end discrimination, racism, sexism, misogyny, and xenophobia.

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Leffler challenges Weed in candidate debate