Election season is upon us, and many incumbent legislators are hoping to slide through to reelection on the basis of party support, name recognition, and their winning personalities. The first-time candidates build their campaigns around their record of civic performance plus a recitation of some of things that they'll promote – or even fight for – once elected. These typically include more and better jobs, "an economy that works for everyone", universal health care, holding down rising taxes, better education at lower cost, stamping out "carbon pollution", and the like.
What candidates of all persuasions should welcome, but often don't, are informed, pointed questions from voters that make them take positions on current issues. Here are a baker's dozen you might want to pose to those seeking your vote.
Government spending: Over the past five years the state's General Fund spending, not counting Federal funds, has grown at around two and half times the rate of inflation, even though population is scarcely growing at all. Will you vote against budgets that increase state General Fund spending growth more than the rate of inflation plus population growth, currently around two percent?
Taxes: Will you vote for or against any proposal to increase the income, sales and use, and rooms and meals tax rates?
Health Care: "Dr. Dynasaur 2.0" is a proposal to be introduced into the 2017 legislature. It would provide "free" (taxpayer-financed) health care to everyone up to age 26, regardless of their means. Would you support or oppose this proposal?
All Payer Health Care Financing: Following the abandonment of taxpayer-financed single-payer health care in 2014, the current administration set out to create an alternative called "All Payer". The Green Mountain Care Board would collect all available health insurance and program moneys, including Medicare payments, and turn them over to one large provider-run Accountable Care Organization. The ACO would in turn provide all "appropriate care" to a defined population, sharing in any savings that it might be able to produce. Would you support this plan, or oppose it?
Renewable Energy: Gov. Shumlin's Comprehensive Energy Plan decrees that Vermont must get 90% of its total energy from renewable sources by 2050. This would require more weatherization, energy efficiency, reducing fossil fuel use (gasoline, diesel, heating oil, natural gas, propane), and subsidies to sharply increase electricity from wind towers and solar PV farms. Do you support the "90% by 2050" mandate?
Carbon Tax: The "Energy Independent Vermont" coalition is working to enact a "carbon pollution tax" on gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, natural gas and propane to drive down the use of those fuels by increasing their prices to consumers. The carbon tax revenue is projected to be $500 million in 2028, 90% of which the sponsors promise would be used to reduce the sales tax rate by one percentage point, and give tax credits and rebates to various eligible consumers. Do you support or oppose enacting the carbon tax?
Big Wind: Would you support or oppose a state tax on new large wind turbines, cancelling out the 2.3 cents/kwhr Federal Production Tax Credit, thus making new wind towers in Vermont economically unfeasible?
Transportation: would you support or oppose initiating and joining a multistate agreement to cap the use of gasoline and diesel fuels in transportation, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and thus combat climate change?
School consolidation: Do you support or oppose the combination of incentives and penalties contained in Act 46 of 2015, designed to push consolidation of school districts into larger multitown Unified Districts?
School Choice: Would you support or oppose protecting parental choice in education where students now have it, and its extension to additional districts and students?
Free College: Would you support or oppose having the state pay for two years of post- secondary education in Vermont colleges for all qualified Vermont high school graduates, regardless of family income?
Passenger Rail: Would you support or oppose state investment to subsidize passenger rail service from Rutland to Burlington?
Gun Control: Would you support or oppose requiring federal background checks not only for purchases of firearms from licensed dealers, as at present, but also for all private transfers of firearms, including gifts, swaps, and transfers among family members?
These are the kind of pointed questions that you, the voter, have a right to ask your candidates. You have a right to expect meaningful answers. Don't let them off the hook.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org).