Rising costs in public school system
Gekas says implementing health care reform will reduce pressure on school budgets. She also identifies investments in early childhood education as a way to reduce education costs for students as they mature through the system.
Gekas supports pooling administrative services at the supervisory level, but doesn’t support school consolidation because she says it could result in larger classes, which would have a detrimental impact on individual students and their communities.
Scott says Vermont needs to “grow its economy” in order to remove the strain on school budgets.
As chair of the Institutions Committee, Scott worked to develop an incentive system to encourage school consolidation, in which the state would pay up to 50 percent of capital costs for schools opting to consolidate, while a de facto moratorium was put in place on construction of new schools.
Higher education system
Gekas wants the state to take a “more vigilant role” and monitor tuition increases at higher education institutions.
She wants to expand loan forgiveness programs for students who want to remain in Vermont to pursue careers in primary healthcare, nursing, early childhood education, and other occupations.
Gekas would also prioritize developing trade and apprenticeship programs and strengthening Vermont’s community colleges for students that don’t pursue a four year degree.
Scott called high interest rates on student loans “unconscionable,” but he believes the federal government should be charged with rectifying the problem. He also believes Vermont should develop additional alternatives to four year degree programs and emphasized the importance of expanding technical programs to attract high tech businesses into the state.
“We need to have a state college system that is nimble enough to offer two year programs in conjunction with private money to encourage that.”
Gekas says affordable health care and childcare services create economic opportunities for working class families. If elected, she would hold a stakeholder meeting at the conclusion of the 2013 legislative session to develop a plan to implement affordable childcare options.
Gekas is skeptical of the EB-5 visa program’s potential to stimulate long term economic growth. She said her approach focuses on supporting small business initiatives “rather than focusing on big ticket solutions or a tax break for a big company to come to Vermont.”
Gekas suggests Burlington's Pine Street incubator could be a model for business collaborations on joint health care plans, advertising efforts and childcare provision, among other things. Gekas also wants the state to make more investments in small businesses that are unable to expand to due to capital constraints.
Scott supports expansion of EB-5 program and would work to replicate initiatives, such as the development project recently announced at Jay Peak, in other parts of the state.
Scott emphasizes that his approach to facilitating economic growth is contingent on establishing consensus within the legislature, and he was reluctant to outline specific initiatives. “I have a lot faith in the Finance and Ways and Means Committees and I think this needs to be worked out through the legislative process.”
Scott said he thinks it will be necessary to make regulatory changes and offer tax incentives to spur business growth in Vermont. Lower property taxes, corporate taxes, and lower utility rates would make the state an easier sell to out of state companies.
Gekas wants the state to increase its support for community justice centers and she wants to introduce more affordable housing options for people when they are released from prison. She has said she has “real concerns” about Vermont’s reliance on private prisons located out-of-state to house inmates.
Gekas is in favor of decriminalization of marijuana.
Scott cautions against a tendency to “just assume that every crime is drug-related” when determining whether to pursue rehabilitation or incarceration for offenders. Scott says relying on out-of-state prisons should be a “last resort” but believes it is a necessary alternative when Vermont state prisons are at maximum capacity.
Scotts supports decriminalization of marijuana but is not supportive of its legalization.
Gekas opposes a moratorium but maintains that processes to solicit community input have been insufficient. “Taking a time out would be a mistake,” Gekas said during the lieutenant governor debate hosted by Vermont Public Television on Oct. 11. She is confident a new commission charged with examining public participation during permitting processes for commercial energy projects will rectify problems around community input.
Gekas has said she strongly supports further development of the renewable energy industry. She supports biomass as an energy source, contingent on the industry proving that wood can be harvested in a sustainable manner.
Scott favors a two year moratorium on industrial wind development. He argues that now is “an opportune time to reassess,” but he maintains that he has been “fully supportive of renewables.”
Scott voted against H. 446 in 2009, which created the first statewide standard offer program in the country providing incentivized rates for installation of solar, wind, small hydro, farm methane or combined heat and power projects.
Scott also voted against H. 520, which would have expanded renewable energy production and would have required Vermont Yankee to pay additional taxes.
Scott believes biomass is a key part of Vermont’s energy portfolio and as chair of the Senate Institutions Committee, he participated in a bill that created incentives for schools to build biomass facilities.
Gekas wholeheartedly supports Shumlin’s single payer health care plan. (She advocated for it when she worked for VPIRG.) She believes premiums should be based on people’s ability to pay. Gekas says the state should determine an appropriate benefits package and then figure out how to finance the program.
Scott supports using the federal framework established in the Affordable Care Act rather than implementing Vermont’s single payer system. “It is going to take an incredible amount of resources, but it’s here [the Affordable Care Act], and I think we should work with that instead of going out on a whole new venture in terms of the payment system.” Scott voted against Vermont’s 2011 health care reform act.