John McClaughry: 16 candidate questions for the general election campaign

This commentary is by John McClaughry, vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute and a former member of the House and Senate.

The 2022 general election campaigns are now under way, and it’s time for citizens to smoke out where legislative candidates stand on issues that they are likely to face in 2023.

I say “smoke out,” because many if not most candidates are nervous about telling voters where they stand on specific issues. That’s in part due to their limited understanding of the issues, and their anxiety about having to coherently defend any clear position.

But the voters have a right to know. So here are 16 timely questions, fairly stated, that voters need to pose to legislative candidates seeking their vote. If the candidate can’t handle at least most of these, he or she likely is not well prepared to handle the job they’re seeking.

1. Should the Legislature require the top 5 percent of Vermont income taxpayers to pay a $30 million income tax surcharge to finance a “Green New Deal”?

2. Should the Legislature broaden the current 6% sales and use tax on goods to include services (such as haircuts, lawn maintenance, plumbing, legal advice, etc.)?

3. Should the Legislature make it an annual practice to contribute at least 10% more than the annual required contribution to the two state retirement funds in order to eliminate their more than $5 billion unfunded liabilities by 2040?

4. The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020 set mandatory carbon dioxide emissions reduction targets for 2025, 2030 and 2050. This is to be accomplished by rules controlling all use of gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas, heating oil and propane. These rules would take effect without any vote by elected representatives. Should all such rules be presented to the Legislature for approval before taking effect?

5. The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020 authorizes “any person” to bring a lawsuit against the state if the emission reduction rules fail to achieve the adopted targets. Should this “sue the state” provision be repealed?

6. Under the Congressional Review Act, a simple majority of both chambers of Congress can pass a resolution of disapproval to kill a rule. Should one-fifth of the members of the Vermont House or Senate be allowed to force an on-the-record vote on a resolution of disapproval of new state rules that will have large economic impacts?

7. Should Vermont join 10 other states in a multistate agreement called the Transportation Climate Initiative, by which Vermont agrees to discourage the use of motor fuel by increasing gasoline and diesel taxes by a steadily increasing 5 to 17 cents per gallon, using the revenue to subsidize “green” projects such as electric vehicle subsidies, EV charging stations, electric buses, etc.?

8. Should the Legislature adopt a “clean heat standard” designed to increase the price of home and business heating fuel in order to raise money to finance weatherization, electric heat pumps, and other “green” projects favored by the Public Utility Commission?

9. Should the Legislature make “carbon neutrality,” either through the use of building materials and processes or the purchase of “carbon offsets,” a requirement for obtaining an Act 250 development permit? 

10. Should the Legislature mandate that residential buildings conform to state-established “green” energy efficiency standards before a title can be transferred?

11. Should persons be free to make personal use of drugs like heroin and fentanyl, provided that they accept financial responsibility for medical treatment for overdoses?

12. Should the Legislature require electric vehicles to contribute the equivalent of a motor fuel tax to the Transportation Fund, as do on-road gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles, to pay for maintenance of state roads and bridges?

13. Should the general election ballot offer voters a choice among teams of governor and lieutenant governor candidates, with the lower state offices filled on a nonpartisan basis by appointment and confirmation? (The One Big Choice Plan).

14. Should able-bodied persons who receive state welfare assistance be required to perform 10 hours a week of volunteer service in their communities?

15. Should the Legislature allow all parents to choose the school or educational program that best fits the needs of their children from among a wide array of providers, with their portion of Education Fund dollars following the child?

16. Should the Legislature approve a “Community Resilience and Biodiversity Act” (vetoed in 2022) to designate 30% of Vermont as undevelopable “conservation” districts by 2030, and 50% by 2050?

There are, of course, many other questions that could be posed. But pressing candidates to respond to these will give voters a good measure of the views and abilities of people seeking elective office. Voters deserve to know what they’ll get by giving their votes. That’s what makes democracy work.

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