NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- A 14-county tour by bicycle is providing a unique perspective on the state and its issues, Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said Friday.
Scott, who is seeking a second term as the state's lieutenant governor, pedaled into Bennington late Friday afternoon from Rutland, completing about 350 miles of his 500-mile journey. The tour, so far, has allowed him time to see the state in a new light, and provided time to think about issues and solutions.
"Anybody running for statewide office has to get all over the state and criss-cross the state," he said. "I thought, ‘Why not do it on a bicycle and slow the pace down a little bit and really see Vermont from a different perspective?'"
Scott, who is being challenged by Democrat Cassandra Gekas, began the tour earlier this week in the Northeast Kingdom, where wind energy is a major issue as developers seek to construct more turbines. Scott said the view of the turbines across ridge lines was not was he expected.
"I would say, up there, more negative than anything else," Scott said. "The first time I saw them, and I rode right past them, it was a bit startling. I was an advocate, and am an advocate for renewables but you have to ask yourself, ‘What is that going to do to our tourism?'"
The state must proceed cautiously with installing more turbines, he said. "We've got to make sure we're doing this right," Scott said.
Vermonters continue to worry about affordability, too, according to Scott. "The one thing that keeps coming up is affordability. ‘How do I continue to live in Vermont? How can I stay here? I'm struggling to pay my property taxes,'" he said.
People often read "that the economy is doing better, but they don't feel like they're doing better." The bike tour has provided time to think about that problem.
One solution could be utilizing an economic development tool that has already been proven to work, Scott said. He said he would like to see the EB-5 foreign visa program used in other parts of the state. The Northeast Kingdom recently announced a $500 million development project using the program, which provides a visa to foreign investors for capital that creates jobs.
"As I'm biking I'm thinking, ‘Why can't we replicate that around the state?' The EB-5 program makes sense. It's worked for that area. It's worked for Sugarbush. It doesn't have to be used for just ski areas. There's a big lesson to be learned there. I think that we need to challenge ourselves and look regionally at how to make that work for us. Why couldn't it work in Bennington?"
Additionally, Scott said he'd like to help shift the legislative agenda to focusing on the economy and growth. A recent, ongoing effort to recruit a Canadian firm looking to move to South Carolina has proven difficult, he said, because of high taxes.
"I don't know if we're going to get them here. But, there's so many reasons why they keep coming back and saying they should go to South Carolina except for one thing -- quality of life. We've got that hands down, but I could use a few other things like lower property taxes, lower corporate taxes, lower utility rates," he said. "If we had a few more tools it wouldn't take many of those companies to make a different."
Scott said is planning to head east today on Route 9 to Brattleboro as he continues the tour.