Washington Senate Candidates Give Responses

by Doug McClure

WOODBURY – There are seven candidates for the Washington District’s three Senate seats. The incumbents — Democrat Ann Cummings and Democrat/Progressives Andrew Perchlik and Anthony Pollina — are running, as are Republicans Ken Alger, Dawnmarie Tomasi, and Dwayne Tucker and Independent Paul Vallerano.

Gazette towns represented: Cabot, Calais, Marshfield, Plainfield, Woodbury.

The only responses received despite multiple inquiries came from Anthony Pollina and Ann Cummings.

Profiles

Ann Cummings

“To be very brief, what has led me to this point is a belief that government can be a force for good. It’s how people in a democracy come together to find solutions to problems that impact society.

“The legislature is divided into committees that are assigned bills in their area of expertise. Any legislator can introduce a bill, but the Committee of jurisdiction takes the testimony and brings bills to the floor for a vote. I chair the Senate Finance Committee whose jurisdiction is taxes, insurance, banking, and utility regulation. Those are the areas in which I have the most influence. My goal has always been to have a tax system that is fair and reflects a person’s ability to pay. Next session, I’d like to explore the concept of a wealth tax. By that I don’t necessarily mean just raising the income tax on wealthy individuals, but one that includes assets like property and trust funds. The second area we must work on is finding the money to extend broadband coverage to every Vermonter. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that broadband, and childcare are economic necessities.”

Anthony Pollina

“I spent many years as a citizen advocate. Founder of Rural Vermont, policy advisor to Bernie Sanders, policy director VPIRG and host of Equal Time Radio on WDEV radio.

“[My foci would be on] reducing the cost of state colleges, moving from property to a simpler income-based system for funding public schools, lowering health care costs and generally rebuilding our post pandemic economy. I have experience working on these issues and connections to citizens supporting them.”

Affordability

Cummings: “Affordability is in the eye of the beholder. However, there is a baseline. Paying taxes, which is usually what the governor means when he talks about affordability, should not prevent anyone from providing the necessities of life for themselves and their families. That’s why most Vermonters pay taxes based on their incomes. We have a problem nationally and in Vermont with wages not keeping up with the cost of living. A large number of people have seen the buying power of their income decline for decades. We must raise the minimum wage to keep up with the cost of living. However, I also understand that to pay increased wages and benefits that employers need to make a profit. I believe that we need to develop a forum for business and government to talk openly, without all the usual posturing, about the problems that face us. There are several national models we could try, but first we have to agree to try.”

Pollina: “Governor Scott thinks affordability only means not raising taxes. The cost of health care, college, etc. are measures of affordability that we must address.

“We should also focus on raising wages and income to make life more affordable for Vermont families.”

Retail Market for Marijuana

Cummings: “I voted for a tax and regulate bill because it became obvious that prohibition wasn’t working. It’s taken several years to reach agreement on what and how to tax and regulate. For now, I think we should allow the system to develop by making necessary changes as they become necessary.”

Pollina: “I support it. But we need to do more to support local producers and people of color and others who need and deserve access to what we hope will be a successful Vermont industry.”

Police Use of Force Bill

Cummings: “As a former mayor, I know that the role of the police has been evolving for years. Unfortunately, our training has not always evolved with the expectations. S.119 updates our training and the law on the use of force to meet present expectations. It also provides for a social worker to be embedded in every state barracks. Hopefully, this person will be able to help defuse situations before they escalate to violence. There have been several bills this year aimed at preventing the kind of situation we’ve seen nationally. I think they are a step in the right direction. We now need to monitor the results and make sure that law enforcement personnel are adequately trained and supported.”

Pollina: “It is a good start. We need more focus on appropriate training and community-based policing.”

Act 46:

Cummings: “Property taxes have been an issue in Vermont probably since the beginning. I think Act 60 that produced the present system, is probably the best system we’ve created. It does allow the majority of residents to pay based on their income. However, it’s effort to maintain local control over school budgets, insure that a penny on the tax rate raises the same amount per student in every town, and find some equity for non-homestead property has created a complex system that is not easily understandable. The problem for the legislature is that we don’t control the spending. How much we spend on education is determined by a vote at the local level. That amount is put through the equalization formula and the tax rate is set. Despite our best efforts, there is still a wide disparity in access to education in Vermont. The base problem is that even though a penny on the tax rate yields the same amount in every town, some towns can afford to spend more pennies than others. There is still a gulf between rich and poor towns. We’ve tried to develop a tax structure based on income, but to date we haven’t found one that works for everyone. We will continue to try to find a solution, but to be successful will require that the State and local school boards work together. The education of our children is our future. We have to get it right.”

Pollina: “I voted against and spoke out against Act 46.

“Lower income people pay a larger share of their income to fund schools than do wealthier people. I have introduced legislation to change our funding system to be more simple and fair.”

Broadband:

Cummings: “The base problem with broadband extension is lack of money. We are a rural state, and it is not cost effective for commercial carriers to extend lines up very rural roads. The state has provided small amounts of money every year to cover the extra costs. There was CARES money made available this year for broadband extension. The drawback was that the lines had to be up and running by the end of the year. Given Vermont’s weather, that was a very limiting time frame. We put 30 million dollars into the effort, but it will barely make a dent in the problem. We continue to explore ways to work with providers, utilities, locally Communications Districts and others to solve the problem. What we really need is a recognition that this is a national economic and public safety necessity connected with sufficient funding to solve the problem.”

Pollina: “It is going to take an ongoing effort to increase funding and support for community-based efforts to expand broadband.”

Minimum Wage and Paid Family Leave

Cummings: “I’m on record as having voted for both an increase in the minimum wage and paid family leave. I’ve already spoken about minimum wage. Let me share my thoughts on family leave. I am the last of a generation when women, at least middle-class women, enjoyed the luxury of being able to stay home with their children. That ability is rare today. I put in my first paid leave bill over a decade ago. My son lives in Canada. When my first grandson was born, his mother had up to a year paid leave to stay home with him. At the same time, I saw young professionals at the State House rushing to get down to the local childcare to nurse their babies. I know that the bond that is developed between parents and children in the first few months of life is the foundation on which their future is built. It is in all our interest to ensure that it is a strong foundation. Parents should be guaranteed some time to form that bond no matter what their income.

“Women also used to be at home to care for sick children and aging relatives. Our school calendars are built on that assumption. In today’s world, everyone works. If a child or relative is sick, someone has to take time off to care for them. The pandemic has brought this reality into sharp focus. I recently heard about a woman who had to give up her job because her children were home learning remotely and her husband, a farmer, had to be out in the fields. It’s time for us to create a benefit structure that reflects the realities of today. All other industrialized countries have done this.”

Pollina: “I support raising the minimum wage and establishing paid universal family leave.”

The Opioid Crisis/Criminal Justice:

Cummings: “[Criminal justice reform] is a good question especially given the Defund the Police movement. I believe that Vermont’s Hub and Spoke treatment system, one in which our local police forces play an important role, is what has been nationally recognized. I don’t think anyone has said that we’ve solved the problem of drug addiction. It remains a major social problem. I wish I had the answer. We do need to make sure that local police forces are adequately trained and resourced and that the necessary treatment is available. For several years we have been making efforts not to send those with addiction issues to prison. We’ve reinvested the money we save into providing treatment. We’ve had some success, but the problem still remains.”

Pollina: “The opioid epidemic is partly rooted in poverty and the feeling of hopelessness that lead to drug use. So, we must provide more economic and social opportunity, i.e. good jobs, affordable college.

“We need more investment in transitional housing and job training. And do more to keep people out of prison in the first place.”

Protecting the Rights of Women, Minorities, and LGBTQ+ Citizens:

Cummings: “The Legislature passed one bill and one Constitutional Amendment protecting the rights in Roe v Wade during this past session. The Amendment will come back to the Senate for a second vote this year. Then it goes to the people for a vote in the next general election. We have a solid history of legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. At the moment, I’m not aware of anything further we need to do, at this time.”

Pollina: “[We should] make these rights part of our Vermont constitution. We have begun that process with reproductive rights.”