Selectboard vice chair Bruce Cheeseman, 12-19-2019

Bruce Cheeseman

ST. ALBANS — Republican Bruce Cheeseman is running to represent St. Albans City and a portion of St. Albans Town in the Vermont House.

He is a former member of the St. Albans Town selectboard.

COVID-19 exposed the cracks in Vermont’s social safety net. What else, if anything, should the legislature be doing to address the impact of the pandemic on low-income Vermonters?

Cheeseman said the state has to do more for low-income residents, including equal access to health care.

"This is the great United States of America," he said. "No child should go to bed hungry at night and no family should not have a roof over their heads."

If that means a tax increase, Cheeseman said, "I'll pay that little extra in taxes."

Given his answers, the Messenger asked why he was running as a Republican. Cheeseman said it was because his father had been a Republican. "To me, the Republicans have always stood for the right thing."

He added he is "beginning to back a little bit away from party status. I don't care what their party status is if they can get the job done."

What should the state do to address the need for affordable, quality childcare?

Cheeseman, whose wife operates a childcare business, said, "The state has to do more for the providers."

"I think the subsidies have to be increased so the childcare centers can offer better wages," he said. Childcare workers, he pointed out, are not earning "a heck of a lot more than minimum wage."

"It's a tough job. They're raising people's kids," Cheeseman said, adding that some children are in childcare ten hours a day.

The state used to provide regular training for childcare providers, but now they're expected to find those trainings themselves, Cheeseman said, which can be difficult with the hours many already work. 

A substantial deficit is projected for the fiscal year 2022 budget. How should the legislature address anticipated shortfalls?

Cheeseman began is discussion of the state's fiscal situation by saying there was one area in which he didn't think the state should make cuts -- law enforcement. "To reduce funding for law enforcement is just going to cause problems," he said.

He did identify one additional source of revenue for the state -- legalizing and taxing cannabis sales. 

The state should also be assisting small businesses and streamlining the permitting process, he said, as well as encouraging people to move to the state. 

"We've got a bad reputation for not being a business friendly state," Cheeseman said.

What about the Education Fund, which is also expected to take a big hit from COVID-19?

Cheeseman, who works for the Milton Town School District, said, "Schools are having to spend money on things they could never have imagined last year when they were putting a budget together."

He suggested consolidation could be a way to reduce expenses and that federal aid could also help.

Special education needs are a major expense for schools, he noted. "When I started working in the school system, I was just floored with the number of kids with special needs," Cheeseman said. "They have to be educated and they can't be overlooked."

As for additional sources of funding, he suggested possibly looking to the local options tax collected by many municipalities, including St. Albans City and Town. "Why couldn't a portion of the LOT go to education?" he asked.

Funds from taxing legalized cannabis sales were another possibility Cheeseman suggested.

"We've got to think of ways of covering our debts without increasing taxes," he said, adding that if elected he is eager to speak with others in Montpelier and hear their ideas.

The legislature this session took some steps to address concerns about use of excessive force by police and the inequities in how often people of color are subjected to motor vehicle stops and criminal charges. Do you think those actions were sufficient or is there more to be done?

Cheesman began by saying that as a child he lived in downtown Burlington, where a beat cop walked through the neighborhood regularly. "He was looked at more as a friend and someone who would help you in time of need," Cheeseman said.

As for the issues police have had in Vermont, Cheeseman said, "You have to look at management. You've got to educate and train and choose the right people."

Because police departments have been struggling to hire, Cheeseman said he believes they have been "taking what they can get for employees."

Cheeseman offered his view of school resource officers. "All of the sudden overnight people are questioning should we or should we not pay for that service in the schools? I think we should."

Scientists largely agree action is needed to delay the worst impacts of climate change. Vermont is also starting to see the impacts of a changing climate firsthand, with shorter winters, harsher storms and so-called “climigration.” What actions, if any, do you feel the legislature should be taking to reduce Vermont’s share of carbon emissions and ready the state for the effects of a changing climate?

"It's another important subject we can't ignore," Cheeseman said. "We should try to cut back on fossil fuels."

If the auto industry would lower the price of electric cars that would help, he said, before shifting to Lake Champlain. 

"We can't lose sight of the fact that we still have to clean up our waterways," he said.

How can the state help create a secure future for its agricultural sector?

"We've got to do a better job of supporting our farmers," Cheeseman said. "I don't think there's enough people being energized to go into farming and the reason is there's no money in it."

Tax relief was one way Cheeseman said the state can aid farmers.

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