Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Sen. Vince Illuzzi, left, is accompanied by Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, Sen. Bill Doyle and Sen. Dick Mazza, right, as he kicks off his campaign for Vermont auditor Wednesday at the Vermont Granite Museum in Barre .
BARRE — From inside the same Barre building where his father carved granite 50 years ago, Republican Vince Illuzzi on Wednesday formally launched his candidacy for state auditor.
The 32-year veteran of the Vermont Senate has been campaigning for months, traversing the state in hopes of building name recognition outside his home district of Essex and Orleans counties.
Supporters on Wednesday said the patchwork of special interests on hand for Illuzzi’s announcement reflects the bipartisan appeal of a candidate who openly considered running as an independent.
He faces Burlington Democrat Doug Hoffer in the general election.
“Where else could you get a group of Republicans, Democrats, Progressives and independents in the same room with the common goal of getting Vince elected as auditor?” Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said at a campaign launch held in what is now the Vermont Granite Museum.
As the longtime chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs, Illuzzi, 58, has endeared himself to a wide range of interest groups. His vigorous support for organized labor over his legislative career, for instance, has won him backing from unions that could play a crucial role in November, notably the Vermont State Employees Association and the Professional Fire Fighters of Vermont.
Efforts to lower tax rates on capital gains and ease restrictions on businesshelped draw corporate-interest lobbyists to the morning campaign kickoff.
Illuzzi, who has for the last 14 years also served as Essex County state’s attorney, said his father’s work in the granite industry shaped his pro-labor views.
“People would come into this building and by the end of the day be spitting up blood because of the silicosis,” Illuzzi said. Unions, he said, “brought about changes that allow people to work here now without jeopardizing their lives.”
Illuzzi won ringing endorsements Wednesday from Barre Mayor Thomas Lauzon, Scott, Washington County Republican Sen. Bill Doyle and Grand Isle County DemocraticSen. Dick Mazza.
As auditor, Illuzzi said his job would be “to ensure money is spent as directed by the General Assembly, to ensure it’s spent as efficiently as possible” and to report back “on whether those investments are making a beneficial difference in the lives of Vermonters.”
Contacted at his home Wednesday, Hoffer said he and Illuzzi seem to have an identical view of the role of the office. He said, however, that there appear to be differences in the way they’d execute those responsibilities.
He pointed to a proposal by Illuzzi to determine, through a performance audit, whether increases in the estate tax in 2008 caused a net drain on overall state revenues by causing wealthy seniors to flee the state.
“As more and more Vermont residents, many of whom were born here, are advised by their accountants and tax advisors to declare their residence in more tax friendly states, what have we accomplished?” Illuzzi says on his campaign website.
Hoffer said the plan betrays a lack of understanding of what can be audited and what can’t.
“There’s no way to audit something like that,” Hoffer said. “You can do research on it, and academics do, but it’s not a suitable project for an auditor.”
Hoffer said Illuzzi’s “play on the Republican mantra, that people will leave Vermont if we raise taxes,” reveals a conservative agenda that Illuzzi might look to push from the auditor’s platform.
“This past year, he co-sponsored a bill … that would have (reinstated) the 40percent capital gains exclusion,” Hoffer said. “It sounds like in some ways his agenda, although he’s not a typical Republican, is very different from the kinds of reviews and audits I might suggest.”
Illuzzi, who has invited Hoffer to testify before his Senate committee in recent years on numerous topics, said he holds the independent policy analyst in high regard. But he said Hoffer lacks the relationships he’s cultivated over a lifetime of public service.
“I think Doug does a great job crunching numbers, but the job goes further than that,” Illuzzi said. “In order to do the job effectively, you have to have the confidence of individuals and departments and agencies.”
Hoffer said he hasn’t given up on securing an endorsement from the VSEA Council, which is larger than the VSEA executive board that gave the union’s nod to Illuzzi. The council will meet within the next several days. Hoffer said he’s also hoping to win endorsements from the AFL-CIO and Vermont-NEA. Both organizations are interviewing candidates this weekend.
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