(Host) The state’s troubled economic climate was the dominant theme as Vermont’s gubernatorial candidates faced off in a debate Wednesday. The candidates agreed that many Vermont businesses are hurting. But they offered different prescriptions for a cure.
VPR’s John Dillon has more.
(Dillon) The candidates spoke to a Chamber of Commerce business exposition in South Burlington and their message was tailored to the audience.
Republican James Douglas repeated his warning that Vermont’s environmental regulations drive companies away. He says New York economic development officials have tried to woo Vermont businesses with the promise that they’ll get all the permits they need within 60 days.
(Douglas) “The point of your question was the perception that Vermont is not friendly to business. From what I see as I go around the state, is that it’s more than perception, it’s reality…. The overwhelming problem that business people face in the state is the regulatory burden of state government. In addition, we’ve got the third highest marginal tax rate in the country, the sixth highest per capita total tax burden. We’ve got a very, very serious problem in Vermont with taxes and regulation and we’ve got to get serious about addressing those issues.”
(Dillon) But Douglas’ comments drew a strong rebuke from Michael Badamo, the Progressive Party’s candidate for governor. Badamo says candidates shouldn’t try to gain politically from the state’s hard times.
(Badamo) “I don’t know how long I’ve been hearing this litany. It seems almost like half my life I’ve been hearing this…. It always comes down to this “the regulatory burden.” I will not deny that there is a regulatory burden…. The question is where is the correct balance. And to make political capital out of bad times by saying ‘Oohh! The regulatory burden is killing us’ is cheap.”
(Dillon) Independent candidate Cornelius Hogan says his experience in business and state government would shape his administration’s business development strategy. Hogan says that in 1980 he steered a $30 million coin and collectibles company out of bankruptcy and back into the black. From that experience, Hogan says he sees the need to tap business leaders to improve state government:
(Hogan) “In the that time, I learned about balance sheets. And I learned that often the most important part about balance sheets is the intangible section of a balance sheet. Intangibles on your balance sheets are leadership, brand value, the quality of your workforce, the experience of your people. That’s what I can bring, that’s how we’re going to pay for some of this, because there is more energy for pent up change in a positive way in this room then we can even calculate.”
(Dillon) Lieutenant Governor Douglas Racine, the Democratic candidate for governor, wasn’t at the debate. He staff said he was filling in for Governor Howard Dean at a conference in Killington. But in a follow-up interview, Racine says Vermont’s economy is hurting mainly from a global downturn. He doesn’t blame the permit process. He says environmental regulations can be improved, but shouldn’t be weakened:
(Racine) “I do not want to see Vermont relax its environmental standards. The standards are good. We enjoy a high quality environment. It gives us our competitive edge with a lot of businesses. … We don’t need to compromise our standards as Mr. Douglas and Mr. Hogan talk about. What we need to do is have a government process that allows businesses to go through the process knowing what the rules are, knowing what they have to do and doing it in as quick a time frame as possible.”
(Dillon) All of the candidates also spoke about the need to improve education to train a better workforce. Both Hogan and Douglas also say they would support using state bond money to complete the Circumferential Highway around Burlington. The highway is a favorite project of local business leaders.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in South Burlington.