Gubernatorial candidates outline economic plans10/23/08

    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Gov. Jim Douglas (right) gets a tour of the Williston Fire Station from firefighter Lynwood Osborne on Wednesday, Oct. 15. 

    Observer photo by Greg Duggan
Independent gubernatorial candidate Anthony Pollina (center) and supporters wave to motorists passing through Taft Corners on Friday.

    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Gaye Symington, Speaker of the House and Democratic candidate for governor, stands in the Democratic Party’s Vermont headquarters in Burlington.

Gubernatorial candidates outline economic plans10/23/08

Douglas, Pollina visit Williston

Oct. 23, 2008

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

If there’s one thing the major candidates for governor can agree on, it’s that the current state of the nation’s economy, as well as Vermont’s, is not good.

In recent weeks, economists have been warning that the country is either in a recession or soon will be. Locally, Vermonters have seen their savings dwindle in stock market losses. Last month’s unemployment rate rose to 5.2 percent, the highest since 1993, according to the Vermont Department of Labor.

In the face of this information, Vermont’s gubernatorial candidates have been traveling the state and highlighting their economic plans prior to the Nov. 4 election. Last week, Republican incumbent Gov. Jim Douglas released a seven-part economic growth plan he wants to implement within the first 100 days of his new term, if he’s reelected.

Democratic challenger and Speaker of the House Gaye Symington has been touting her own plan while attacking Douglas’. Independent candidate Anthony Pollina, who’s been gaining support, according to recent poll data, has also been on the offensive with his own plan.

Jim Douglas

On a recent tour of the Williston Fire Station, Douglas talked about his plans to improve the state’s economy, attract businesses to the state and keep young, educated Vermonters from leaving the state for better jobs.

In particular, Douglas highlighted his seven-part economic growth plan, which features proposals including research and development tax credits for businesses, an innovation challenge for companies to create cutting edge technologies and the creation of “opportunity zones” which would provide tax incentives for businesses to renovate and expand into vacant industrial spaces.

“I believe the state that succeeds is the state that has innovation,” Douglas said. “We’ve got to set ourselves apart. We need businesses to set up shop.”

Douglas said everything is tied to the slow economy, including high food and fuel prices. He said he has a track record of dealing with dips in the economy and creating new jobs. He touted his “E-State Initiative” — a plan to offer all Vermonters cell phone and Internet service — and this year’s state tax holiday as economic successes.

Douglas admitted to facing difficulties with the Democratically-controlled Legislature in recent years while trying to pass his economic plans, but believes legislators have to act this next session.

Douglas says Vermonters should expect more “belt-tightening” and understands people are struggling, but is confident his ideas can address problems. He said his opponents don’t have fully realized economic plans, and Vermonters will realize that during upcoming debates.

“My record on fiscal responsibility and economic leadership is proven,” Douglas said.

Gaye Symington

Symington has been traveling the state and touting three economic initiatives she’d focus on if elected.

“When I talk to employers, they say their main concerns are workforce, infrastructure and energy for the future,” Symington said during an interview at her office in Burlington.

Creating a strong and viable work force has become a “lost second cousin” in the Douglas administration. She said she would support higher education and worker training programs to prepare Vermont’s workforce for better-paying jobs.

Vermont’s fading infrastructure for roads, bridges and rails is another concern, as is the need for better telecommunications. Symington said $140 million is available from the federal government to fix infrastructure, but the state is in danger of losing the funds if the current administration doesn’t act immediately.

Seeking cleaner energy, including wind power, should be another priority in the state, Symington said, and she wants the state to become a leader in the field.

“If we can enable Vermonters to use less energy, that could allow (alternative energy) projects to move forward,” she said.

Symington said Douglas’s recent economic growth plan is full of “old ideas,” many of which would not work. She focused her criticisms on Douglas, never mentioning Pollina.

Symington said the economy will hit all residents and communities hard and a change in Montpelier is necessary to soften the blow. She said Douglas has had six years to create more jobs and hasn’t done so.

“If we’re going to come out of this recession, we need new ideas and new leadership,” Symington said.

Anthony Pollina

Pollina said he worries about Vermont in the face of the sluggish economy, but believes he would be able to best move the state forward during this critical time.

He said the fastest-growing jobs in the state are low-wage jobs, median family incomes have declined and Vermont has the slowest economic growth in New England.

“We need to build the economy from the family level up,” Pollina said during a visit to Observer offices.

Pollina said one way to create jobs would be to put Vermonters to work repairing roads and bridges. By closing the capital gains tax loophole, Pollina believes about $20 million dollars would be available annually for roadwork.

The candidate also believes in investing in the state at a time when it needs it most. His many ideas include a Vermont Credit Card, which would reinvest a percentage of every purchase in local farms and businesses. Pollina also said he would ask businesses to join a new Vermont Merchants United network that would keep credit card processing fees in the state.

“The idea is to keep more money in state and encourage Vermonters to invest in their future,” Pollina said.

Pollina said Gov. Douglas’ “do nothing” approach and “misrepresentations” on the economy would not help the state. He said he believes in speaking honestly and doesn’t see a bright immediate future for Vermont’s economy. But with the tenacity of Vermonters, he feels the state will be OK in the end.

“Vermont is in a better position than a lot of other places,” Pollina said. “Putting money into the local economy helps everyone, and that’s what I want to do.”


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