MANCHESTER >> Lt. Governor, and Republican gubernatorial candidate, Phil Scott, visited Manchester on Friday, speaking to reporters at the Equinox Resort.
Among the topics discussed were Scott's views on health care, workforce development, and Act 46. He also spoke at the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems annual meeting, which was taking place at the resort.
"We need to pull the plug and transition to something else," said Scott regarding Vermont Health Connect, "It's either going to be transitioning to cooperation with another state or going to the federal exchange. I don't think it can be any more clear than that... My concern is not just about making this dysfunctional exchange work, it's as much about the operating cost afterwards. We have a one of a kind system that is costing about $45 million a year just to maintain, and it's not working well. When I look to New Hampshire, for instance, New Hampshire has a federal exchange. They had decided to do that from the beginning, and they did so for less than $20 million, and their maintenance costs are under $20 million a year."
"For me, looking at that scenario, it seems we could save operating costs in the future, at least $20-25 million a year, and if we have to invest $20-25 million to move to something else, we could recoup that amount of money in one or two years, and then in the future have less overhead," he said.
Scott also said that he envisions a future where manufacturing in Vermont has a more visible role in the economy.
"There are those that feel that manufacturing is dead," he said, "I would counter that it's very much alive. I would counter that it may be different than we normally envision it, but it's very much still here. I'm running for governor because I want to focus on the economy. It's all about the economy to me."
In order to help rebuild a healthy workforce, Scott said that Vermont needs to do a better job both convincing college students to remain in-state after they graduate and offering better career and technical education across the board. "Our workforce has shrunk," he said, "We have less people working than we did seven years ago. A low unemployment rate, but that just means there's less in the workforce. I look at the net, how many people are working rather than how many are not working, and I think that's where we have opportunity. We have this crisis of affordability on our hands because of the spending habits of the legislature and so forth increasing the cost of living on many Vermonters."
"We have enormous opportunities for our youth to get training in these trades. It's very lucrative in plumbing, mechanical, and so forth. I think that's the training we need to focus on, to open up opportunities for our youth. At the same time, if we can provide stability and continuity in our tax structure, I believe that we can bring many more businesses into the state, and grow the businesses that are here. The reason they leave, at times, is the cost of doing business in Vermont. It's fairly simple."
Scott said situations like the one facing North Bennington, where it is being forced to leave the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union in order to maintain school choice, are unacceptable, and go against the goals of the Act 46 legislation. "I'm a believer in school choice," he said, "I think you can have both and I think we just have to find a way of presenting that. Competition is good. I think there needs to be more latitude and flexibility in Act 46 as well. We don't want to get into a situation where we force an SU to act in a way that doesn't make any sense. We need to create more incentives, more carrots and less sticks, to do what we want to do, which is curb the cost of education."
He said that the next secretary of education under his administration would have to be someone who is willing to listen to the concerns of Vermonters. "We serve Vermonters," he said, "we serve the schools. We have to change the dynamic, we have to change the culture. There's a lot of good people working at different agencies, but we are supposed to be serving the public. We're supposed to be serving the citizens, and I think sometimes we lose sight of that."
Scott is running against Democrat Sue Minter.
— Contact Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.