Campaign Countdown: Vermont's economic outlook

Published: Oct. 3, 2018 at 11:32 AM EDT
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Vermont's major party candidates for governor sat down with Channel 3 to discuss their economic vision for the state.

Governor Phil Scott is continuing his efforts to make the state more affordable and says he doesn't anticipate raising taxes. Democratic challenger Christine Hallquist, meanwhile, has a plan to deliver fiber optic cable to everyone in Vermont.

Both candidates seem to agree on one thing -- Vermont's workforce needs an infusion of workers.

"There are fewer people working today than there were in 2009. That's a problem. Now, the good news is we've added 4,000-plus since January. That's good news," Scott said.

"There's been this acceptance of this demographic shift and we're in this downward path. We will turn that around, and the fundamental foundation for turning that around is connecting every home and business with fiber optic cable," Hallquist said. She says fiber is crucial for growing business and educating students. And she'll achieve her goal by having it strung by electric utilities -- a potential savings of 75 percent. "If you have the electric utility hanging the fiber it's another wire -- it's just another wire. They use their poles and equipment and it's significantly less expensive."

Hallquist also wants to focus on rebuilding downtowns by using the tax increment financing system. It allows designated districts to use the local tax revenue from new development to pay for public infrastructure improvements. "That doesn't raise taxes, that funds it through growth," she said.

Scott also supports the use of TIF districts, noting Bennington and Montpelier are starting the process and other cities and towns have benefited in the past. "Investing in our downtowns is part of the answer as well," he said. But for Scott, the top priority is growing the workforce and filling good-paying jobs that remain vacant. "I believe that the demographics, the workforce challenges that we face, are our most significant challenges."

Scott championed a $35 million housing bond last year which, with private investment, will infuse $100 million into affordable housing in the state. He says that's part of his affordability agenda. "We are deemed as an expensive state and we need to correct that, and we've done that. Over the last two years we were able to contain the increase in taxes and fees," Scott said.

Avoiding tax increases will be a priority in a second term for the governor. "Raising taxes is always a last resort, and I believe with the revenues that we're seeing -- we've seen a little bit of some positive news in terms of the report on revenues this month -- I think we can expect we're not going to have to raise taxes," Scott said.

Hallquist isn't swearing off tax increases. She strongly supports a paid family leave program which would be funded with a payroll tax. Scott vetoed a plan earlier this year because of that tax increase.