Campaign Countdown: Gov. Peter Shumlin - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Campaign Countdown: Gov. Peter Shumlin

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MONTPELIER, Vt. - Gov. Peter Shumlin served three years in the state's House of Representatives, and 12 years in the Senate -- six of them as President Pro Tem -- before becoming the state's top elected official in 2011. In six days, voters will decide if the Putney native should keep his office for a third term.

The Governor won praise for his handling of Irene in his first term and tackling of the state's opiate epidemic this term, but he continues to face criticism for the rocky rollout of Vermont Health Connect and his time out-of-state raising money for the Democratic Governor's Association. "While I recognize that we haven't been perfect and that any governor will make mistakes, we've got this state headed in the right direction," Shumlin said.

The Governor says a low unemployment rate and thousands of jobs added since the recession are evidence of Vermont's improving economy. But economists say the low unemployment rate is a function of Vermont's shrinking workforce more so than job creation. Shumlin concedes he would like to see faster growth but says efforts to bring green and tech jobs to Vermont are paying off and will have even greater dividends in the future. "In Vermont we are making a lot of right choices allowing us to grow faster than our New England neighbors," he said.

If re-elected the Governor faces more tough decisions this January when lawmakers will return to a roughly $100 million shortfall in the state's budget. He's filled slightly smaller holes in previous years but won't be able to tap one-time federal and state funds to the same extent as before. "We've done it without raising income taxes, sales taxes, rooms and meals taxes and that's how I'll continue to try to do it going forward," Shumlin said.

Other taxes did rise during the Governor's time in office, including gas and property taxes. The Governor may tap the "broad-based" taxes like the sales tax when he proposes how to pay for single-payer health care. He says he wants to make sure Vermonters pay for health care based on their ability to pay, but says the entire burden won't fall on an income tax. "My view is it would be a mistake to use one single source to pay for health insurance," he said.

Act 48 called for his financing plan to be delivered to lawmakers last January. A recent study conducted by a pro-reform lobbying group suggests the plan will surface after the election; the Governor says it will be ready this January. "If I had a plan I would present it. We're not there yet. We're working very hard to get there by January," Shumlin said.

The Governor says if and when single-payer health care becomes a reality, it should help cut into ballooning school costs and the property taxes that pay for them. "There's no way going forward that Vermont can afford to have a school system that has more staff, more teachers, more administration, more bureaucracy, than we had when we had 30-thousand more students," he said.

Shumlin calls his opponent Scott Milne's plan to cap property taxes a gimmick. His Secretary of Education is meeting with boards to explain how their decisions affect the bottom line of the state and tax payers. But the Governor would not address if mandatory school consolidation, a state-wide teachers' contract, increasing the teacher-student ratio, or public school choice should be considered by the legislature.

Previously the Governor has called for the Department for Children and Families to be split out of the Agency of Human Services; however, he says those running the agency and department have convinced him doing so would make it harder, not easier, to protect Vermont's at-risk youth.

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