MONTPELIER >> The two leading candidates for lieutenant governor disagreed over whether to expand the sales tax to services, the wisdom of building the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline in Addison County, marijuana legalization and the most recent attempt at education reform.
However, Progressive/Democrat David Zuckerman and Republican Randy Brock found several areas of agreement in a statewide televised debate Thursday. Both felt they needed more information before rendering a judgement on the Shumlin's administration plan to implement an "all-payer" waiver to reform the state's health care industry.
Both agreed climate change was a significant problem, though they had different views on whether renewable energy projects in Vermont make a dent in carbon emissions. They also agreed a four-year term for the governor's job would be preferable to two years.
The most heated exchange in the debate came when a member of the studio audience asked about a September event Zuckerman held to discuss racism. Brock said the event was inappropriate because it politicized the issue. Brock also criticized Zuckerman for making a joking reference to Zuckerman's father being Jewish when discussing budget frugality.
Zuckerman, who served 14 years in the House and the last four in the Vermont Senate, defended the event. Some of his comments, Zuckerman said, "had been taken out of context to paint an inaccurate picture." For example, he said Brock's criticism that Zuckerman does not use the phrase "black market" when talking about underground marijuana sales was to discontinue a connotation that connected illegal sales to African-Americans.
They also tangled when discussing the number of minorities in Vermont jails, with Zuckerman saying the rate was unusually high, while Brock, who is African-American, said the statistics were meaningless unless the reasons for the imprisonment, including criminal background, were also studied before assuming the high rate was due to bias.
Brock served one term as state auditor and two terms in the Vermont Senate before losing the governor's race to Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2012.
During questioning by VermontPBS moderator Joe Merone, the two split over whether to expand the sales tax to include services in order to lower the rate. Zuckerman spoke more favorably of the idea, saying it was "an important discussion to have." Brock feared if the rate were lowered and services included, the rate would eventually rise to the current rate of 6 percent for both goods and services.
On marijuana legalization, Brock continued to challenge Zuckerman's claim that the revenue from regulating and taxing recreational marijuana would be enough to create a trust fund that would help lower the cost of higher education. Brock likened Zuckerman's plan to use marijuana revenue to fight opiate addiction to "pouring gas on a raging fire."
Brock said he wanted to dump Vermont Health Connect and move to the federal exchange, while Zuckerman feared many would lose state subsides. Brock said 40 states use the federal exchange and maintained many offer subsidies.
Zuckerman was critical of the all-but-complete 41-mile pipeline to carry natural gas through parts of the western part of the state. He wondered how much more could have been done with the $140 million in ratepayer money spent on the project if it had been used instead on efficiency projects. Brock said he was concerned about the high pricetag but said natural gas was cleaner than oil and that he was not opposed to the project.
The two candidates disagreed on the efficacy of Act 46, the state's school consolidation law. Brock said it would not work, while Zuckerman said changes needed to be made but the state should not "throw the baby out with the bathwater."
Several times during the debate, Zuckerman mentioned the endorsement he received from Sen. Bernie Sanders and that Brock opposed many of Sanders' views. Brock in his closing statement emphasized Zuckerman's progressive beliefs and said Zuckerman would raise taxes and expand government programs.
Liberty Union candidate Boots Wardinski was invited but declined to attend, according to Merone.