Gov. candidates debate economy and environment

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(Host) Vermont’s gubernatorial candidates met for a debate on environmental issues Thursday night. The Progressive, Independent, Republican and Democratic candidates all agreed on support for alternative energy projects. But the debate highlighted their differences over the impact of the permit process on the state’s economy. The debate was sponsored by the Vermont Natural Resources Council, a statewide environmental group.

Jim Douglas, the Republican hopeful, disagreed with a VNRC question that implied that competition from overseas was to blame for many job losses in Vermont. Douglas says the global recession is a factor, but he says the regulatory burden has also driven some companies away:

(Douglas) “When we lose jobs to Mexico or Singapore that’s a global recession issue. But when we lose them to New Hampshire or New York, that says something is wrong with the business environment in our state. C & S Grocers isn’t moving 400 corporate executive jobs 20 miles east to Keene New Hampshire because of the global recession. It’s because of the business climate in Vermont.”

(Host) Democratic candidate Doug Racine says politicians too often blame Vermont’s environmental laws for the state’s faltering economy. He says that IBM laid off workers in Vermont because of a worldwide downturn in the computer market, not because of the permit process.

(Racine) “So let’s not scapegoat our environmental permit process and by extension our environmental standards for what’s going on in the economy. New Hampshire is hurting more than we are. They’ve lost twice as many manufacturing jobs per capita than Vermont has and I hear them being held up as a standard for what we want to be like. It’s not what I want Vermont to look like.”

(Host) Independent Candidate Con Hogan told the audience of environmentalists that the state must re-work the Act 250 development review law. According to Hogan, Vermont’s environmental bureaucrats could learn from companies that re-invent their production lines every few years.

(Hogan) “That’s what we need to do with Act 250. That would be a major league message to business that Vermont is open for business in an environment second to none. And Act 250 could be improved. Let’s keep the criteria. Maybe we need to beef them up with some criteria that speak to sprawl because our planning process have not worked for sprawl.”

(Host) Progressive candidate Michael Badamo was the only one of the four to come out against the Circumferential Highway project in Chittenden County. Badamo says that Racine supports the road mainly because IBM says it’s needed. He says none of the candidates know how to pay for the $180 million project.

(Badamo) “Mr. Douglas wants to spend lots of money. I’ve heard him repeatedly put money into project after project, into issue after issue after issue after issue and then say he’s going to cut taxes. I don’t see how it’s possible. Mr. Hogan says well, like the gambler in Las Vegas, let’s throw good money after bad. And Mr. Racine says anything for IBM. Let’s close the door after the horse has been stolen.”

(Host) The environmental debate was one of several the gubernatorial candidates held this week. Next week, they appear before the League of Women Voters in Burlington. Later in the week, they’ll address local government issues at the Vermont Coalition of Municipalities in Rutland.

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