Political parties launching legislative agendas

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(Host) Vermont’s major political parties are launching their legislative agendas this week.

The Democrats want to maintain their majorities in the House and the Senate, while Republicans are working to reduce the number of Democrats at the Statehouse.

Meanwhile, the Progressives are hoping to elect as many as ten House members in November.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports

(Kinzel) Vermont’s three major political parties are adopting very different strategies to win votes for their legislative candidates in November. Judging by their initial responses, it’s going to be a heated and highly partisan campaign in many key districts.

Democratic leaders stood on the steps of the Statehouse on Monday morning to announce that property tax reform will be their top priority. House Speaker Gaye Symington says health care, energy and rural economic development efforts will continue to be key concerns. But Symington thinks property tax reform is one of the most pressing issues facing the Legislature:

(Symington) “We must more seriously examine how to modify how Vermont pays for its schools we should more directly base school taxes on Vermonters’ ability to pay rather than on their property value. Certainly the answer is not to cut back on prebates. That would be a step in the wrong direction.”

(Kinzel) Republican state director Jim Barnet says the Democrats have done a terrible job on property tax reform in the past. As an alternative, he’s backing Governor Douglas’s plan to cap all school spending at 3.5 % a year.

(Barnet) “The last time the Democrats reformed the property tax system they gave us Act 60. So I don’t think most Vermonters are going to trust the Party of Act 60 to reform the system yet again. And you can bet that if they have the opportunity to fiddle with the system again, they’ll make it even worse.”

(Kinzel) Barnet says it’s also likely that many Republican candidates will support the Governor’s so called “Affordability Agenda”.

(Barnet) “That’s designed to make Vermont more affordable for working families by reducing the escalating costs of heath care, college education, housing and especially property taxes.”

(Kinzel) At the Democrats’ press conference, Senate Majority leader John Campbell said part of the Republican agenda was an effort to raid the Education Fund in order to provide new money for highway projects. It’s a move the Democrats strongly opposed.

(Campbell) “I believe that the Republicans definitely do have an agenda to affordability. Unfortunately it doesn’t involve Vermonters who have to work for a living. It doesn’t involve Vermonters who are ill or disabled. And it certainly doesn’t involve Vermonters that are elderly. We Democrats will not join the Republicans on their irresponsible quest for the bottom.”

(Kinzel) The Progressive Party has decided to focus most of its energy this fall on legislative races. Acting Chair Anthony Pollina says the party hopes to run as many as 18 House candidates this fall. Currently the Progressives have 6 members in that chamber.

Pollina says health care is a leading issue for Progressive candidates because he says the reform plan passed by lawmakers this spring takes the state in the wrong direction.

(Pollina) It’s talking about subsidizing the purchase of private insurance for some Vermonters, so using taxpayer dollars top help some people buy insurance. That’s a long way from affordable health care for all. It’s along way from a real reform of the health care system that would actually cut health care costs. So there’s a lot more work to be done.”

(Kinzel) Pollina says he’s also very pleased that the Progressive Party will be fielding candidates in most parts of the state.

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

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