The major party candidates vying for Vermont governor met at the Mad River Barn in Waitsfield Tuesday evening for an in-person COVID-compliant debate.
Republican Vermont Governor Phil Scott is seeking his third term. He’s being challenged by current Democrat/Progressive Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman. The two discussed a number of reader-submitted questions in a semi-formal debate with moderator Anne Galloway, founder and editor of VTDigger. “This is from Hayden Ross of Barre and Josh of Fairfield. And they ask what specific action will you take to improve Vermont's economy? Specifically how will you bring new business to the state and add more jobs?”
Zuckerman replied that there is a need to invest in the rural economy and expansion of broadband. “If we invest in broadband in our rural communities not only will it be helpful for education but people can start businesses, people could expand businesses, people could relocate businesses to our rural areas. I would also invest in affordable housing in our town and village centers so that again people could afford to live and work in those communities once we have that broadband. I would also put money directly, significantly more money I should say, directly into weatherization of working class families’ homes and fixed income seniors’ homes.”
Anne Galloway: “So David how much would that cost?”
Zuckerman: “Well, what I've looked into is about $100 million temporary tax on the wealthiest 5%, that is half of what they got from the Trump tax cuts.”
Scott was skeptical. “The question is all good initiatives and worthwhile initiatives but how are we going to pay for it. The top 5% of those who pay taxes in our state make $159,000 per family and more. So we're talking about middle class families that are going to be taxed more for some of those initiatives. Broadband is an important issue but we're going to need some help from Congress on that because it's going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and we don't have it at this point. So we just have to figure out how to make Vermont more affordable, more efficient, live within our means and bring more people into the state.”
The duo also clashed on state climate policy. Answering a question about his climate policies, Governor Scott he began with a critique of the legislature’s override of his veto of the state Global Warming Solutions Act. “The elephant in the room is the Global Warming Solutions Act was something that I didn't agree with in principle because of the constitutionality of the process.”
Galloway: “Governor may I interrupt?”
Galloway: “A lot of people really just want to see action. What are the action steps?”
Scott: “EV’s are part of the answer. We've invested a lot of money in transforming the state fleet into more energy efficient EV’s. We've been focusing on large scale electrical storage. I even proposed taking 25% and this last budget, 25% of all surpluses, would go towards climate change climate initiatives, weatherization. So it's not as though we're doing nothing.”
But Zuckerman says the Scott’s moves aren’t enough — resulting in a testy exchange. “Often he's made proposals in budget addresses where there's great new ideas and you're right the legislature doesn't go along with them because quietly money was taken from other programs to do it. We need to invest much more in weatherization. Under my earlier plan that the governor is not supportive of we would be putting 20 million additional dollars per year into weatherization.”
Scott: “If you had this grand scheme, this plan with weatherization $20 million, you're the President of the Senate, you have a 24 to six majority. Why didn't you make it happen?”
Zuckerman: “One is that the legislature pushed back against the number of your budgets including when you're going to cut schools, when you're going to cut teachers and educators…”
Scott: “Never a cut, never a cut, never a cut in schools.”
Zuckerman: “Well student teacher ratio student teacher ratios was going to be a cut…”
Phil Scott: “They keep going up, we spend more money every single year…”
David Zuckerman: “…but they did not go along.”
Scott: “…for education.”
Zuckerman: “Just because funding goes up doesn't mean there weren't also cuts to teachers.”
Audio is courtesy of VTDigger.
The minor party gubernatorial candidates are Trust Matters nominee Emily Peyton, Independents Wayne Billado III, Michael Devost, Kevin Hoyt, and Erynn Hazlett Whitney, and unaffiliated Charly Dickerson.