As we gear up for midterm elections on Nov. 6, The Colchester Sun will be running Q+As with local candidates running for office.

This week’s candidates are running for Chittenden 9-2 House District. All four candidates were asked the following questions and given 500 words to respond:

  1. What is your strategy to balance the state budget? What taxes or fees, if any, would you be willing to increase? What services, if any, would you cut?
  2. Vermont legalized recreational marijuana last legislative session. Should the state tax and regulate it — why or why not?
  3. Is the state doing enough to clean up Lake Champlain? Explain.

Sarita Austin

1. The following are strategies, I believe, Vermont will need to implement in order to not only keep the budget balanced but grow economically making certain that Vermont remains affordable:

  • Develop clear, accurate, and current projections of revenue forecasts and spending trends
  • Provide opportunities for skilled workers to access gainful employment
  • Look to overcome obstacles and seek opportunities to increase new revenue sources
  • Spend responsibly and invest wisely in order to increase state revenues
  • Increase construction of affordable housing
  • Research cost saving options for single payer health insurance such as Physicians for a National Health Program
  • Expand and support Vermont small businesses and grow emerging economies such as the climate economy
  • Attract young professional families and retirees who want to move to and invest in Vermont
  • Maintain a quality education for all students while working with the Legislature and state leaders to develop a funding formula that is sustainable and fair to Vermont tax payers
  • Schools and businesses need to collaborate on the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that Vermont students will need to succeed

2. Yes, I support taxing recreational marijuana in Vermont. The Vermont Democratic Party believes that “marijuana should be legal, taxed, and regulated in the interests of consumer and public safety as well as economic opportunity.”

3. A 2016 study by the University of Vermont found that “Vermont lakeside communities would lose $17 million in economic activity and 200 full time jobs — in July and August alone — for every 39 inches decrease in water clarity.” (Fall 2017 UVM Quarterly).

Vermont is required to enact the provisions of the 1972 Federal Clean Water Act which is one of the most powerful environmental laws on the books. In 2002 Vermont proposed phosphorus limits “setting a total maximum daily load that marks a threshold for the maximum amount of pollutants that a body of water can handle each day.” ( VT tackled farm pollution and cleaned up its waters 6/22/17).

In 2015 Vermont passed Act 64 which requires farmers to start using specific farming techniques to reduce runoff. Farmers working together with other farmers continue to come up with innovative and successful practices to improve the water quality on the lake.

I believe Vermont is doing what it can to clean up the lake with the funding available. However, the projected costs to clean up the lake over the next 20 years could exceed one billion dollars. The state continues to explore all options for funding as well as precisely how the money would be spent.

Pat Brennan
Republican (Incumbent)

1. Vermont has had a balanced budget for the 16 years I have been in the legislature. This next year I would expect to be no different. To achieve a balanced budget, we simply have to live within our means, much the same as we do in our everyday lives. I will not support increasing taxes or fees to achieve a balanced budget however and if certain areas of government need trimming, then that’s what we have to do. I would propose cuts that are fair although may be a bit painful to some and are spread out equally. This would include pairing down government as well as social programs so that impacts to all are minimal.

2. As many of you may know I did not support legalization for a few reasons. As chair of the House Transportation Committee, part of my job is to ensure the safety of the traveling public. Without a roadside test for marijuana or drug impairment, I was unable to support this legislation. Never the less it did pass and marijuana is now legal. But without a process to regulate it and control and police it I believe we are headed down the same path that we were on previously. Black market would run rampant, abuse could increase thus making treatment very costly and unaffordable. I believe if it is happening (and it is) then to do it right it should be taxed and regulated similar to a sales tax.

3. I believe the intent is there. We are aware of the consequences of non-action, however it is time to act and set our plans in motion. The time for studying and analyzing are over. And by the way Lake Champlain is the Crown Jewel of Vermont, but we do have many other impaired waterways throughout the state and this plan should apply to all. Through education, and working in concert with all affected parties we can someday restore The vibrancy to Vermont’s lakes and streams.

Herb Downing

1. My strategy to balance the state budget would be to work collaboratively with other members of the legislature to control the cost of government. Rather than arbitrarily cutting services needed by citizens, I would focus on reducing costs, particularly, how much we spend on schools. I favor the consolidation of school districts under Act 46, a reduction of tax dollars spent on administration, and a statewide teachers contract. If there are fewer students in the system, the cost to the taxpayers must be reduced. I will not support any program that will result in a significant increase in the residential property tax. As a member of the Colchester Selectboard, I have worked hard to keep our property taxes low. With the adoption of the local option tax, we have paid down the public debt, set aside money for voter-approved capital projects, and achieved one of the lowest municipal tax rates in Chittenden County. I hope to continue this work as one of Colchester’s representatives for District 9-2.

2. Yes, the state should tax and regulate cannabis. It should be regulated in order to protect the public and to keep it away from kids. I would support a system similar to that used to regulate alcohol, with both local and state control over sales and distribution. I believe that a tax on cannabis would generate substantial revenue for the state’s general fund. It took Massachusetts two years to adopt such a system. It shouldn’t take that long in Vermont. I believe there is bipartisan support for this. It’s a no-brainer.

3. Through its recently formed stormwater utility, the town of Colchester spends a significant portion of its municipal budget to keep untreated stormwater out of Malletts Bay. Under the recently adopted Clean Water Initiative, millions of dollars of stormwater projects in Colchester are in the planning stage. Because of our beautiful Bay and the recreation it provides, Colchester has a special interest in clean water. This interest is not shared by other towns. The municipal taxpayers of the town of Colchester cannot afford to clean up the bay without more financial help from the state. It’s not fair for the taxpayers of Colchester to pick up the tab for this expense when the bay is enjoyed by all Vermonters. Vermont needs a comprehensive, statewide plan to keep pollutants and sediments out of our lakes and rivers. The cost of cleaning up the lake is prohibitive. The challenge for the legislature will be to budget enough financial resources from a variety of sources so that water quality in Lake Champlain improves. I look forward to this challenging work.

Pam Loranger

1. Meet our current obligations. Do not expand services beyond the current programs in place. The budget should be level funded adjusted only for increases in cost of delivering services. The government must learn to manage the people’s money in the same manner the taxpayers are expected to manage their own finances. The funds available are finite, therefore any adjustments to the agencies or services must be within those constraints. We are not in a position to add any additional services without reducing services on the other side of the ledger. Unfunded liabilities remain a looming threat to the solvency of our state and our bond rating. We must tackle this problem before considering adding anything more to the budget.

2. First, I would like to see the legislature prioritize current spending demand and revenue resources before expending months on regulating a substance which still remains in controversy among health organization and the public safety sector. Legalization has created its own unique set of problems. Until we can adequately resolve those issues I cannot support any expansion of this market. For health and public safety reasons, I agree the substance should be regulated in terms of potency and quality control. I see no viable means on the horizon to accomplish this without a tremendous expense to the taxpayer. I have seen no model that will fund the regulation and any taxes brought to bear would be so prohibitive as to make the entire program not feasible or cost effective.

3. Act 260 passed in 2018, although inadequate in terms of long range funding, created a template for moving forward efficiently and effectively without the expenditure of funds in yet more studies. Colchester has stepped up to the plate with our stormwater utility fee which pays for the proactive programs which address stormwater, a very large factor in lake health. The Lake Champlain Basin report records Malletts Bay as the cleanest of all the five smaller “lakes” comprising Lake Champlain. If the legislature wants to move forward to raise revenue for clean water initiatives via a per parcel fee I would strongly advocate and work for applying credits to any community already contributing through a local utility fee.