Democratic incumbent John Moran and Republican newcomer Geralyn Sniatkowski say they understand their communities in the Windham-Bennington-1 House district of Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, and Wardsboro.
“We need to be expansive, not restrictive,” if Vermont wants to survive the economic crisis, Moran said.
“I have a stake in seeing our community thrive,” Sniatkowski said.
If re-elected, Moran will take his third trip to Montpelier. He said the work of a citizen-lawmaker excites him and he enjoys representing the interests of his constituents. Moran has also served for 20 years at the community level as a school board member and health officer.
If sent to Montpelier, Sniatkowski wants to make the state better and more affordable for families and business friendly. She’d start by lessening the tax burden on property and small business owners.
A full-time job
Moran said he has turned the representative job into a year-round position by attending numerous community gatherings and going door-to-door to speak directly with constituents.
“I sure do listen,” he said.
Economic development is a big issue for the district, he said.
The state must continue to invest in public infrastructure such as roads, bridges and telecommunications because they make Vermont more accessible for businesses and visitors. Many infrastructure jobs, he adds, also pay good wages.
Tourism packs a big punch in Windham-Bennington-1, home to the Mount Snow and Stratton ski resorts. Moran plans to find support dollars for advertising and marketing.
Moran said he helped lead the creation of the Tri-Town Economic Development Committee. Dover, Whitingham and Wilmington banded together to form the committee after two snowless winters devastated the towns’ largely tourist-based economies.
He says right now, tourism-generated tax money benefits the state more than residents. He wants to ensure tourism taxes instead return to the area that generated them for economic development purposes.
However, he believes strong economic development and sustainability requires a balance between spending, borrowing and saving, but the ongoing economic crisis has knocked this balance “out of whack.”
Moran worries that people and banks have become restrictive with their spending, which in the long term slows recovery, he said.
Fair taxation is another concerning issue for Moran and his constituents. Wardsboro, Dover, Searsburg are net-sending towns.
“It’s time to seriously review Act 60 and Act 68,” Moran said. “The promise of Act 60 and Act 68 did not deliver,” he said.
Equal money does not guarantee equal education, said Moran, who looks forward to the legislature’s Vermont Blue Ribbon Tax Structure Commission report analyzing education-funding options in January.
One key to education spending, said Moran, is revisiting Act 60’s promise of equal money for each student ensuring equal opportunities.
But, equality has not been the case, said Moran, because Act 60 never defined what education dollars could be spent on.
Moran said he would also like to do away with the common level of appraisal (CLA) as part of restructuring Act 60. A town’s CLA is based on fair market value but many towns’ CLA is based on “speculative housing” or second homes within the town.
Dover, for example, has a median income lower than Vermont’s average and many residents cannot earn a livable wage. Yet someone coming from out-of-state to buy a second home determines the worth of year-round homes.
“It’s unfair if the home is not speculative,” he said.
Property taxes are destructive to small businesses, the engine of economic development, and is killing off the business base, he said.
“We’re reaching a point where enough areas in the state are becoming concerned. We may be at a point where we can make some serious changes [to the tax system],” Moran said.
Regarding the issue of school choice, Moran feels decisions of school governance should remain at the local level and the state should protect the current school choice system.
But, he adds, it’s important to define what people mean by school choice. If citizens want to have local schools, Moran feels their towns should operate K-6 schools.
For Moran, the Vermont Yankee issue comes down to reliability. “I don’t want to stake our energy future on an unreliable plant,” he said, adding that the state should honor Vermont Yankee’s original agreement to close the plant in 2012.
“Entergy is unreliable as a company. Their word is not bond,” said Moran. He worries Entergy will stick Vermonters with its bills.
Moran believes the Hydro-Quèbec energy deal can replace the power Entergy provides.
A representation of her community
“I’m a good representation of my community and have a stake in the community,” said Sniatkowski, a mother of three and co-owner of the Mountain Park Cinema in Dover.
She said her role as a parent and business owner differentiates her from Moran.
This is Sniatkowski’s first run for any form of local or state political office. But with three kids and a business, she feels she’s well versed in education and business issues.
Sniatkowski said she understands the struggles faced by people in her district. She’s running to set an example for her kids, one of standing up and taking action rather than complaining.
Property tax issues top the list of potential constituents’ concerns. Dover’s taxes, she explained, have increased due to a recent reassessment, yet incomes “are stagnant.” The result, she said, are parents with young children and the elderly questioning their ability to stay in their homes.
Sniatkowski said everyone else has had to cut back financially and so should the government.
“Belt tightening needs to happen,” she said.
She said she approaches the budgeting issue from the perspective of a business owner. All the state commissioners need to be approached and asked to find savings. “Government is not known as the most efficient entity,” she said.
But, she adds, tourism and marketing should be spared because they are revenue generators. She points to state tax receipts for fiscal year 2010 as proof of tourism’s power, noting that the two taxes that exceeded revenue estimates were sales taxes and meals and rooms taxes.
Constituents also worried about the health of businesses, she said. “Government does not create jobs, business creates jobs,” she said, adding that small businesses act as the “engine that runs Vermont” and that tourism creates jobs.
She is also adamant about changing the state’s education funding system.
Dover, a sending town, sent over $10 million to the state last year, according to Sniatkowski. Yet, her local school can’t afford to repair its roof, while Burlington installed artificial turf on its athletic field.
“We need to define what equal education is under Act 60,” she said.
She said one solution is defining what is equal within the core curriculum and letting towns appropriate money locally for anything schools want above the core.
Regarding Vermont’s 140-year history of school choice, Sniatkowski said parents should decide what’s best for their children. By offering parents a choice, it keeps local control over education.
She and her husband, a retired police officer now employed at Mount Snow, moved to East Dover eight years ago. The couple first came to the area as second-home owners and fell in love with the community and quality schools.
“We love it here. We’re so happy here,” she said.
Prior to the move, Sniatkowski spent 18 years as a women’s apparel buyer, which, she said, taught her great multitasking skills.
“You get used to the chaos,” she said.
But, joking aside, Sniatkowski said she understands her community’s frustration.
“For me this election is about doing what’s right for this community,” she said.