Vt. Gubernatorial Candidate Minter Focused on Education

  • Vermont Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Sue Minter, speaks to the Valley News editorial board on Friday, October 28, 2016. Minter is running against Republican candidate, Phil Scott, in the November election. (Valley News - John Happel) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/29/2016 12:13:42 AM
Modified: 10/29/2016 12:13:55 AM

White River Junction — A plan to provide tuition-free community- or technical-college education to Vermont students, identifying communities for infrastructure projects and a coordinated plan to combat the state’s opioid crisis are centerpieces of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter’s campaign, she said on Friday.

At the same time, the former Vermont secretary of transportation and Irene recovery officer says that she will “hold the line” on income and sales taxes, and “close loopholes for the wealthy” while keeping open options for replacing diminishing sources of revenue as fuel conservation and electric vehicles lead to less revenue for the state from gas taxes.

Also, Minter said she is opposed to a carbon tax, saying, “I think it can be punitive. It’s regressive.”

Her comments came during a meeting with editors and reporters at the Valley News on Friday.

Minter, who is running against Republican Phil Scott, said one of her priorities is setting out policies that will advance the educational opportunities of college-bound Vermont students, which she said is vital for the state’s economy and supporting middle class residents.

“I believe education is the critical lever of opportunity and change for the future,” she said, emphasizing that Vermont needs to boost the percentage of high school graduates going on to post-secondary education and the role it plays in making the state hospitable for employers.

“Vermont has the highest high school graduation rate in the country, but when it comes to after high school, we actually are near the bottom,” she said, citing figures that only 6 out of 10 high school graduates in Vermont go on to post-secondary education. “Everywhere I go in Vermont I hear (companies) can’t find qualified workers, so they can’t grow. Advanced manufacturing companies are leaving because they can’t find the workforce.”

“Education equals workforce equals economic growth,” she said.

To pay for the plan, Minter proposes to “expand the bank franchise fee” out-of-state banks pay to do business in Vermont. Minter said her team has “looked at this very carefully” and estimates it would cost $6 million to implement in its first year and $12 million in the second year, although she didn’t say how much the tuition program would cost thereafter.

Her proposed bank franchise fee would apply only to banks with at least $750 million in deposits.

“That’s how we’re going to pay to get kids beyond high school,” she said, adding that banks also would benefit because it would mean they would have higher-earning customers. In return, recipients of the tuition aid would be required to “give public service” and would be paired with “mentors” to ensure their successful transition into higher education and the workforce.

Minter, who also is a former lawmaker from Waterbury, Vt., credited her 16 years working in the state’s public service sector as providing her with an unrivaled advantage in knowing how to navigate the bureaucracy in Montpelier and an executive adept at “breaking down the silos” between state agencies and departments. She cited her experience in managing the state’s recovery from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 when she had to draw upon myriad sectors of the state government in coordinating, many which never previously worked together.

“My management approach is based upon my experience,” she said.

That experience, she said, will be particularly valuable when it comes to combating Vermont’s opioid crisis because of the strain it puts on everything from the health care community, law enforcement and social services sector, which need to work in tandem in dealing with the situation. Minter said she particularly admired the way cities such as Rutland have handled the challenge, “where three years ago they came together around substance abuse as a community” with its Project Vision program.

That program, she said, involves the police department “co-locating” community policing with parole and probation officers, domestic violence prevention advocates, mental health care workers, social health care professionals who “work as a team” in dealing with substance abuse and domestic abuse in the community.

She said such shared responsibility revealed to her the “power of breaking down the silos for these multifaceted problems,” which as governor she would push communities to adopt. “It’s not going to be a top-down thing,” Minter said, saying local communities would have to figure out the model that works there. “It will be the top helping to manage.”

Minter said her organizational skills had helped bring major investments to Vermont as transportation secretary, and she cited a $19 million public investment in roads, water and other infrastructure in downtown Barre which she said helped leverage over $45 million in private investment.

As a result, Minter said, Barre has seen a 13 percent increase in revenues from rooms, meals and sales taxes compared to a 3 percent increase statewide. “We created a great foundation,” she said.

During the first 90 days of her administration, Minter said, she would identify three other communities in the state to replicate a similar kind of infrastructure project that would combine public and private investment.

In health care, Minter said she was “cautiously optimistic” about the all-payer agreement which the Green Mountain Care Board and Shumlin administration this week finalized with the federal government, moving the state away from a fee-for-service payment system to providers. She said she came “to her conclusion after talking with health care providers around the state ... and everyone of them had (given it) either a green or yellow light.”

“I am going to be very thoughtful and engaged as we move forward. I think this is really the beginning of moving forward on how we actually structure the waiver,” Minter said. “But I am a supporter.”

She acknowledged that the state’s troubled history and reputation over Vermont Health Connect was “fair” reason to question whether Vermont would be any better this time around when it came to overseeing a system in which all the heath care providers could track the necessary information.

While saying she didn’t yet know the details about how such a system would work, “I know having run multimillion-dollar IT projects that what must happen is you must be right on top of the contractors and evaluating where they are relative to where they need to be ... It doesn’t make me not want to move forward, but (it’s) something to be very cautious about.”

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.
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