Gubernatorial candidates debate municipal issues

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas and his Democratic opponent Peter Clavelle clashed over ways to reduce local property tax burdens on Thursday at a debate sponsored by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.

And as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the two candidates also tangled over Corrections policies.

(Kinzel) The debate took place in front of several hundred local officials in a small conference hall in Barre. One of the top issues for the League of Cities and Towns is local option taxes.

Under Act 60, a limited number of so-called “gold towns” are allowed to impose a local sales or rooms and meals tax as a way to offset higher property tax burdens. Voters in each community must vote for the local option tax before it can be put into place.

For several years, the League has backed a plan to expand the local option provision to allow every town in the state to impose these taxes. Douglas told the municipal officials that he’s not very enthusiastic about their plan:

(Douglas) “We have to realize that we don’t want to raise the overall burden on the people of Vermont. So just allowing unlimited taxation opportunities, I think, relieves the pressure to contain spending as both the state and local level.”

Clavelle, who’s a former president of the League of Cities and Towns, wholeheartedly endorsed the plan:

(Clavelle) “And this is not about opening to the skies and saying, ‘Tax as much as you want,’ Jim. This is about allowing folks at the local level how they want to tax themselves.”

(Kinzel) The two candidates were also asked if they would pledge to make more money available to local corrections programs if the state follows through with a plan to release hundreds of non violent inmates from jail. Douglas quickly agreed:

(Douglas) “Well no one is going to be released into the communities unless there are resources and infrastructure available there to support them. I want to make that very, very clear.”

(Kinzel) But Clavelle challenged Douglas’ pledge because Clavelle says the administration is chronically underfunding these programs right now:

(Clavelle) “So this, governor, is occurring every day of the week and frankly it boggles my mind that you would stand before this crowd and say, ‘We will not release folks into the community without adequate supervision.’ It happens every day of the week. We had a rash of violent incidences last summer in the city of Burlington where not one, not most, but every one of the offenders was under the supervision of the Department of Corrections.”

(Kinzel) Clavelle also criticized the Corrections Department for not providing inmates with substance abuse problems sufficient programs to help them deal with these problems.

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

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