NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- Republican gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock said he is framing much of his campaign against Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin on health care and economic issues.
Brock, a Franklin County senator and former state auditor, said internal polling by his campaign shows that voters are most concerned about economic issues. Health care is also an issue on which Brock and Shumlin have starkly different views.
Shumlin, in his first term, is moving the state toward a single-payer system. Brock said his own health care plan is "imminent," and he plans to release details in the near future. It will include the health care exchange required under federal health care reform law, but organize it differently than Shumlin's plan, Brock said.
Additionally, it will look "to put health care choices and control in the hands of the patient" and "seek to be a plan in which everyone can be covered." A major difference from Shumlin's single-payer plan, however, is whether government will offer insurance "or make it affordable for people to purchase insurance" from insurance companies, Brock said.
In an interview Wednesday, Brock touted a plan in Maine that opened the insurance market and allowed residents to purchase insurance across state lines.
"That broadens the range of offerings, that broadens the range of plans that people can choose," he said. "The key, in my mind, is, does the consumer have enough information to make an intelligent choice and do you believe that people are smart? Or, do you believe that people are too dumb to choose something because they're going to pick something that is bad for them?"
He said Shumlin's plan has too many unanswered questions.
"Right now, what we're doing is we're moving in a direction in which we don't know, we're not able to answer fundamental questions like, ‘What does it look like? What's it going to cost? Who's going to be covered? What's going to be covered? How are we going to pay for it? How's it going to work?'" Brock said. "We're moving in a direction that is effectively destroying what we've got now that covers 93 percent of the population, however adequately one can debate, and replacing it with an unknown."
Brock said Vermonters should be wary that other states are not attempting to implement similar single-payer health care plans.
"There is an arrogance that I see in Montpelier, the arrogance being that Vermonters are smarter than anybody else. So, therefore, we can figure it out with two-tenths of one percent of the population of the country, not considering that there are places like Bennington where a significant amount of major medical treatment actually occurs in New York, in the Albany market," he said.
Meanwhile, despite the state's 4.6 percent unemployment rate, the fourth-lowest in the nation, Brock said he plans to campaign on economic issues. Many Vermonters are wary of economic conditions, he said.
"If you start looking at the numbers, our labor force is actually shrinking. That's a key point. As you think about unemployment, the unemployment rate doesn't include people who have left. The number doesn't include people who have stopped looking for work and have given up. The number doesn't include people that, right now, are living in the shadow economy, and I'm afraid that's an economy that's growing in Vermont. I think our economy is fragile. I think it's improving, but I think it's fragile," Brock said.
The state must create a better business climate, he said, because it is hampered by high taxes, "impenetrable regulation," a "Byzantine regulatory environment" and "an anti-business approach to dealing with job growth."
Brock said he will highlight areas where government can make permitting better for businesses looking to expand or move to Vermont. The state should begin with a system for local and state permitting "to take place on a parallel track, not a sequential track."
To ease taxes, spending must be lowered. State government could be run much more efficiently, Brock said.
"We need a government that is much more nimble and much more innovative and it needs to do things in a much more business-like fashion. Governments aren't businesses. I'm not saying they are, but there are principles to apply," he said.
Vermont state government is "labor-intensive." Vermont boasts a "great" work force, Brock said, but they must be allowed to perform their jobs without constraints from higher levels of government.
"They need more flexibility. They need more empowerment," he said.
Furthermore, the state is in a timely position to reduce the workforce by becoming more efficient, according to Brock. About 25 percent of the state work force is set to retire in the next five years, he said.
"There's no better time to deal with making a leaner state government that's more effective and more responsive than there is right now because you can use the demographics, you can use the attrition that we know is going to happen anyway, to help us get there without having to have massive layoffs of employees, which is something I don't want to do," Brock said.
The state should also transition to a "zero-based budgeting" system to find waste, inefficiency and incompetence, he said.
"You start with a blank piece of paper and you build your budget based on that," Brock said. "In Vermont, that's a more laborious process and that's something that you would need to phase in on a rolling basis."