Citizen Questions for Office Seekers

by John McClaughry

The candidates have filed and the campaign season in full swing, heading into the primaries on August 28 and the general election on November 6. Now is a good time – a very good time – for citizens to start thinking about putting serious questions to candidates for the state legislature.

Here are ten useful questions to pose to those seeking public office in 2012 (available on a new pocket card issued by the Ethan Allen Institute):

1. The Vermont income tax now has a top bracket of 8.95%, applied on taxable incomes in excess of $336,550. To what higher level, if any, would you vote to increase that rate in an effort to raise more revenues from the wealthy?

2. The present legislature enacted Green Mountain Care, a single payer universal access health care system, where private health insurance and premiums are abolished, all Vermonters are entitled to the benefits of a government-designed taxpayer-financed health insurance plan, and the state compensates all health care providers out of such tax dollars as may be available for that purpose. Do you support creation of such a system? If so, which tax or taxes would you vote to raise to finance it?

3. To combat “climate change”, the 2006 legislature committed to requiring Vermonters to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide to 50% below the level prevailing in 1990, by the year 2028 (Act 168). Will you vote to authorize the regulations and energy taxes necessary to achieve this very large reduction? Or will you vote to repeal this Act?

4. The 2012 legislature and governor agreed to reduce the annual General Fund contribution to the Education Fund by $27.5 million. With school budgets rising, they made up the shortfall by raising both residential and nonresidential school property tax rates. Will you vote to make the full contribution, and (hopefully) reverse the property tax rate increases?

5. It is increasingly proposed in Montpelier to rein in public education spending by having the state require higher pupil-teacher ratios, impose caps on increases in local school district spending, and require district consolidation. Will you support any of those proposals?

6. Will you vote to preserve existing parental choice in education, and extend it through any or all of public school choice, charter schools, virtual schools, or vouchers for use in any approved independent education program?

7. In 2009 the legislature enacted a law (Act 45) to require Vermont utilities to buy wind and solar generated electricity at three to five times the market price, in order to make those renewable energy companies economically viable. Will you vote to repeal this “feed in tariff” requirement?

8. The 2012 legislature stopped short of imposing a “Renewable Portfolio Standard”, to require electric utilities to generate or buy increasing percentages of high cost wind and solar electricity, to be paid for by their ratepayers. Will you vote for an RPS bill when it comes up in the next legislature?

9. Will you vote to introduce consideration of economic benefits into the Act 250 land use and development regulatory process, so that job and revenue creation can outweigh some allegedly adverse environmental effects?

10. House Speaker Shap Smith has announced that next year he will promote extending the present sales and use tax to services, and lowering the tax rate (at least initially.) This would affect accountants, barbers, cosmetologists, plumbers, electricians, lawyers, and many more service providers. Will you support or oppose such a sales tax extension?

Here’s a warning to citizens: candidates really dislike incisive questions like this. But remember: you are the citizen and voter. You have the right to answers.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org).