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The Brattleboro Reformer - Economy: Gov. Candidates Unveil Their Plans

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Location: Brattleboro, VT


The Brattleboro Reformer - Economy: Gov. Candidates Unveil Their Plans

Chris Garofolo

The three major candidates in Vermont's gubernatorial race have focused their campaigns on the state's economy. And all three have portrayed themselves as the battle-tested candidate to deliver the goods during the current economic crisis.

Republican Gov. James Douglas, 57, has toured the state highlighting his record of fiscal conservatism, while challengers Gaye Symington and Anthony Pollina have taken measures to present clear distinctions between themselves and the three-term incumbent.

Douglas has promoted his "Economic Growth Plan," which he wants to pass within the first 100 days of the next legislative session. It outlines his intentions to grow the economy and create jobs while protecting families and businesses.

Douglas also hopes to win points with the voting public through his opportunity zones to reward businesses that revamp vacant industrial facilities in Vermont. The zones would be exempt from income tax on revenue from rent and come with a five-year tax reallocation to the community.

"I know what needs to be done when the economy is soft and what we can do to get it moving again," he said. "I think Vermonters know how we can position ourselves to be competitive, and I think that message is indeed resonating."

Symington, the 54-year-old Democratic candidate, has outlined her plan to bring new technology and green jobs in the state through her "21st Century Initiative."

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She said her plans make sense for the average Vermont family struggling in the current economy. "'Who's on our side' is the sense I hear from Vermonters," she added.

The outgoing Speaker of the House, Symington has been a vocal critic of Douglas, pointing to his unwillingness to accept responsibility for a lackluster economy. Since she launched her campaign in May, Symington said that household income in Vermont has dropped more than any other state but Connecticut, and there are fewer jobs now than before the last recession.

Symington said Douglas likes to say he is the right person to steer a steady course, but "it's easy to keep a steady hand on the the wheel when the car isn't moving."

Under her leadership, Symington said the state could solidify its leadership as a welcoming place for entrepreneurs to build their businesses, strengthen sustainable food networks through appropriate ventures and provide new jobs in quality child care for young Vermonters.

"Child care, for me, is an economic development issue," she said.

Independent candidate Pollina, a longtime activist and Statehouse outsider, has seen a slight boost in his poll numbers of late.

He plans to strengthen the economy by strengthening working families. By closing the capital gains tax loophole, Pollina said the result would be an estimated $20 million to invest in rebuilding the "crumbling" infrastructure and affordable housing.

"We offered people real strategies to deal with the economy, we have been positive, we have chosen not to attack other people and we have gotten a lot of grassroots support," Pollina said.

Pollina, 56, has put forth his plan -- distinguishing it from his Democratic opponent -- to get Vermont on track with an investment fund, which would be seeded with 2 percent of the endowments to Vermont public institutions (with additional funding by businesses and individuals) to assist in financing renewable energy and broadband access.

He has also proposed a Vermont Credit Card network to lower and simplify fees with a local processor to keep money within the state so residents "can have money in their pocket, they can pay their bills and they can have a little money to spend on Main Street."

While state Republicans have criticized the credit card idea, calling the proposal "irresponsible" and the "wrong direction for Vermont," Pollina said "it doesn't translate into more debt, it translates to more investment in Vermont."

Although Pollina originally campaigned as the Progressive Party candidate, he said he switched to independent status in July to step out of the party label box.

"Since the transition, we've had many more Democrats stop by ... We have also had a response from Republicans as well," he said. "I think it has helped in the sense that party labels get in the way for some people."

Regardless of the actions taken from his challengers, Douglas remains confident Vermonters will send him back to Montpelier for another term.

Douglas said that states that offer a unique brand for businesses will be the most successful once the current economic slump passes, and Vermont has an opportunity to create environmental jobs consistant with the strong green values in the region.

"Vermonters want to be more independent in terms of our energy future," he said.

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The campaign has turned increasingly nasty the past three months, with both Democrats and Republicans accusing the other side for the amount of negative advertising.

The Symington camp ripped Douglas in an attack ad, saying the governor used taxpayer funds to run his campaign. While Democrats say Douglas has changed his story about using the public money, nothing has come from the claim through the Attorney General's office.

The Democratic swipe came just days before the Vermont GOP filed a complaint accusing the Symington campaign of a potentially illegal collaboration with Democracy for America.

In an interview with the Reformer this week, Symington said the negative campaigning is disrespectful to Vermonters and based on distorted information.

Instead of focusing on the slowest economy in New England or Vermont's growing unemployment rate, Douglas has alienated voters with his slogans, she said.

"You would think he could set the bar higher," Symington added.

According to Douglas, it is ironic Symington is questioning his integrity after trying to pass off "bogus tax returns."

The GOP put pressure on Symington in August after she released documents to make it appear she and her husband filed separate tax returns, when they did not want it publicly known they filed a joint return.

Recently, the Douglas camp shifted its focus from Symington to directly going after Pollina, criticizing his tenure with the financially troubled Vermont Milk Co.

Ads and press releases by the governor's team say Pollina left farmers and small businesses "holding the bag" after checks were returned due to insufficient funds.

The Douglas campaign said Pollina's "smooth talk rings hollow when his record shows that he did not fulfill his obligations to farmers and small businesses."

Pollina said the attacks were just another ploy from a desperate incumbent with only slogans and failed policies.

"He is depending on negative attacks because he has nothing positive to say," Pollina said. "I think the good news is Vermonters don't fall for this kind of stuff. Vermonters know who to trust."

Additionally, Douglas has also outraised and outspent his opponents by sweeping margins. Recently released campaign finance reports indicate Douglas has raised $1.25 million and has spent roughly $967,000. He has spent more than Symington and Pollina have raised -- $493,000 and $233,000, respectively -- combined since the election cycle began.

While the gubernatorial race features three front-running candidates, there are four other candidates seeking the position, including Liberty Union candidate Peter Diamondstone and three independents, Cris Ericson, Tony O'Connor and Sam Young.

A recent survey conducted by WCAX-TV from Oct. 24-26 gave Douglas 47 percent, with 24 percent for Symington and 23 percent for Pollina. There was a plus or minus 5 percentage points for the margin of error in the poll.

According to Vermont's Constitution, if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the popular vote, the election is put in the hands of the heavily Democratic Legislature in January. Mississippi is the only other state in the country that has this measure.


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