Gubernatorial candidates debate family leave programs

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(Host) Vermont’s gubernatorial candidates debated a wide variety of issues at a special campaign forum sponsored by several women’s groups on Wednesday. Several hundred people attended the debate, which took place in the House Chamber at the Statehouse.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The four candidates, Democrat Doug Racine, Republican Jim Douglas, Progressive Michael Badamo and Independent Con Hogan, disagreed on a number of issues raised at the forum.

Racine said he supports a plan to implement a paid family leave law in Vermont. The state’s current law allows new parents to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave time, but studies show that few families take advantage of the law because they cannot afford to lose their income during the leave period.

Racine says it’s critical to adopt a paid family leave plan, but he no longer thinks it should be paid for by tapping into the state’s unemployment insurance fund:

(Racine) “My goal is paid family leave in the state of Vermont. Let’s understand why that’s so important. I think everyone in this room understands why those first few weeks and months in a child’s life are important and important enough for us as a society to support the mothers and the parents of those children.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he encourages private companies to offer paid leave time but he doesn’t want to make it a state requirement:

(Douglas) “I don’t think it’s appropriate to mandate from the state level. We have a very serious, competitive problem in our state in terms of attracting and maintaining good paying jobs here. And the more mandates we put on the business community, the less competitive we’re going to be.”

(Kinzel) All the candidates supported additional funds for early childhood programs but only two of them would identify specific ways to pay for these programs.

While Racine and Douglas said they would find the money by making government more efficient, Hogan said he would slash the number of school superintendents from 67 to 14. And, he would negotiate teacher contracts on a county-wide basis to help lower education costs and provide more money for programs like child care:

(Hogan) “All these measures and more can bring some hope to this process because what’s lost at this point is hope. People have lost hope that we can begin to bring these extraordinary costs – which have gone from $600 million to a billion dollars in a mere four years – back under control. We’ve got to give people hope. That’s how I would do it.”

(Kinzel) Badamo said he would provide more money for childcare and other essential services by increasing the state income tax on the most wealthy Vermonters.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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