Gubernatorial candidates debate economic issues

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(Host) Economic issues dominated a campaign forum in Burlington Monday. The state’s leading candidates for governor outlined their plans to change the state’s environmental permit process to make it easier for businesses to grow.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The campaign forum was sponsored by the Burlington Rotary Club and each of the three main candidates for governor used the lunch meeting to highlight his pro-business agenda.

Independent Con Hogan is a veteran state administrator who worked for four governors and used to run the Human Services Agency. But Hogan talked also of talked of his time in private business, when he operated a coin company in Montpelier.

Hogan says the state needs strong environmental protection. But, he says, the Act 250 review process has outlived its usefulness.

(Hogan) “I want to recreate the machinery of Act 250. I want to start over again. It’s a third of a century old. IBM reinvents itself every 18 months now. That’s what we need to do with Act 250, because we’ll end up with a better environment with better machinery, shorter times in our decision making. But most importantly it will be a major league message to the business community in Vermont and beyond that we are open for business in an environment second to none.”

(Dillon) Lieutenant Governor Doug Racine wants to keep Act 250, although he says the process could be streamlined while maintaining environmental standards. The Democratic candidate for governor describes himself as an optimist about Vermont. He says the state has a solid workforce and a strong quality of life that are attractive to companies wanting to expand.

Racine says he won’t run a negative campaign, an apparent reference to the criticism he’s received from Republican candidate James Douglas.

(Racine) “I see the job of governor as being the CEO of a large organization. I see the job as one that’s to identify issues, identify possible solutions and to work with everybody involved to build the consensus needed to move this state forward. I’m a positive person. I’m an optimistic person. My campaign is not focused on taking shots at other candidates but rather to stay focused on what’s important to Vermonters.”

(Dillon) Treasurer James Douglas countered that the state’s economic problems need more than a positive attitude to cure. He cited a string of companies that have left the state. He says the cause was not competition from overseas but a more business friendly environment in neighboring states.

(Douglas) “You know, it’s going to take more than optimism to change the business climate in our state. It’s going to take leadership. And I have proven record of leadership in my roles in state government throughout, as majority leader of the House, as secretary of state and for the past eight years as treasurer of our state during a very, very challenging fiscal time.”

(Dillon) Douglas was endorsed on Monday by Mel Martinez, President Bush’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Martinez said that the president has taken a keen interest in Vermont’s gubernatorial campaign and asked him to travel to Vermont to boost Douglas’ candidacy.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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