NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- Five of the six candidates seeking a seat in the Vermont House in Bennington answered questions Thursday on health care, energy and education.
The forum, sponsored by the Bennington branch of the American Association of University Women, allowed candidates to express their priorities during the next legislative biennium that will begin in January.
Incumbent Democratic Reps. Brian Campion and Timothy Corcoran II are facing a challenge from Republican Warren Roaf in Bennington's 2-1 House district. Democratic newcomer Dale Gerity is hoping to secure one of the two seats in district 2-2 currently held by Democratic Rep. Anne Mook and Republican Rep. Mary Morrissey. Gerity did not attend the forum.
Candidates had a variety of answers when asked what the role of education should be in preparing students for jobs available in Vermont.
Campion touted the programs offered at local technical school and the Community College of Vermont that offer programs that train students for local jobs. "Those are two very, very important and essential things that need funding and need to continue to be funded," he said.
The state must look at addressing economic inequality that results in some students graduating from college with significant debt.
Mook, too, said the state must focus on technical education reform to provide training for Vermont jobs. She said companies "are going to want that educated, trained, skilled workforce."
Focusing on technical education is important, Corcoran said, for students who find college too expensive, or are seeking a job that requires training rather than a college degree. "Some kids don't take that option and they want to work locally," he said.
Employers continue to express concern over potential employers that are not prepared for available jobs. "In my time in the Legislature, my number one complains is they can't hire here," he said. "If we had the work pool that was educated by our school system here through the CDC, we could reverse that trend and make people want to stay here."
Roaf, a former middle school principal, said he supports a program at the high school that allows students to work part of the day and attend school for part of the day, providing students with hands-on training. A focus on early education is important for preparing students, too, he said.
"It's all connected and I think we need to start early to get things done," Roaf said.
An early focus on job training is a priority for some students, Morrissey said. "Getting students ready and early on and getting them focused on a job path early on would be beneficial not only for students but for employers here," she said.
Health care, and the state's path toward a single-payer system, sought by Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, drew varying responses.
Corcoran said he does not support legislation passed in the last biennium that has the state on a path toward a single-payer system because the cost and how it will be paid for have yet to be answered. "My justification is, I would like nothing more than for everyone to have health care. That's a human right. The issue is funding," he said. "I'm going to keep an open mind. My biggest thing is the funding issue."
Mook said she supports single-payer because the current system is broken. "Vermonters will be bankrupt and it's going to consume us," she said.
Mook said she would like a single-payer system to cover hearing aids. "For a lot of seniors, and for a lot of children who need them, these are very expensive," she said.
Roaf said he agrees "that health care should be provided to everyone." A single-payer plan "tries to accomplish that," he said, but it has not been made clear if the money is available, and where it would come from.
"I think you need the complete picture before you can decide specifically what parts should be included," he said.
Morrissey, too, said more information is needed. "I can't tell you if you're going to be better off at the end of this discussion or not," she said.
Instead, the state should look to "peel back layers of health care that we can't afford anymore" that has already been put in place.
Health care is a "necessity," Campion said. Vermonters are paying high costs under the current system, he said. He said the state's single-payer system would focus on preventative care.
"We want to move to a system where we are preventing illness, not reacting to illness," Campion said.
Additionally, it would serve as a tool for economic development.
"I think this is one of the best things the state can do for economic development," he said. Vermont would be the first state with some level of predictability in health care costs."
All five candidates indicated the state must have a diverse energy portfolio. Roaf said he supports continued exploration of wind and solar power, and the continued use of nuclear power. But, the state must have proper regulations in place, he said.
"We need it with the correct regulations that will protect the citizens in that area," he said. "What we need is the right amount of regulation. We need to be careful about the protection of our citizens."
Campion said he favors a state energy plan adopted last year that has Vermont "on path to have 90 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2050." He said he would like to see more small hydroelectric facilities come online, as well as solar and wind.
Balance is important, Corcoran said. "We can't put all of our eggs in one basket," he said.
Still, the state must look to protect the state's ridge lines when considering wind turbines, according to Corcoran. "I think we should preserve that where we can," he said.
Mook said she does not support the continued operation of Vermont Yankee, the state's only nuclear power plant located in Vernon. Mook said she favors wind power.
"I support the windmills. I think we can do them in an efficient manner. They can be part of the renewable package going forward. They must be," she said.
Morrissey, too, said the state must focus on a diverse energy portfolio to allow Vermont to have an independent energy policy.