MONTPELIER — Republican Scott Milne, the state GOP-backed candidate for the gubernatorial nomination, held a statewide telephone town hall meeting Thursday night in a bid to speak directly to voters, but steered clear of specific policies he would embrace as governor.
Milne, a businessman from Pomfret, promised listeners he would “always listen before I act.” He laid out three principles his campaign is based on and what values a Milne administration would adhere to.
He said Vermonters want a governor and a government “that values being practical over always doing what’s political.” And he said residents have a history of wanting a state that is much more locally controlled, rather than “top-down management of ideas being pushed down from Montpelier.” Finally, he said Vermonters want a government that is well-managed and uses “a common sense approach to managing the people’s money and resources.”
Former Republican Gov. James Douglas kicked off the call by reiterating his support for the candidate, whom he first endorsed at Milne’s campaign kick-off event in Barre last month. Douglas said he believes Milne “has the capacity, the intelligence, the experience and the leadership potential to be our next governor.”
With revenues “sinking in Montpelier” and a “stagnant work force,” the state needs “someone with a vision for the future that is based on hope and opportunity for everybody,” Douglas said.
Milne faces Emily Peyton and Steve Berry on the Republican primary ballot. Libertarian candidate Dan Feliciano is also waging a write-in campaign. Milne has declined to participate in debates with his GOP challengers.
He hopes to face Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, who is seeking a third term, in November.
Callers raised questions about health care, property taxes and the need for more local control in government.
Vicky from Stowe said she is struggling to stay in the home her family built.
“I can no longer afford to live in my home. The taxes in Vermont, the property taxes in Vermont are so extraordinarily high, that I can no longer afford to live in my home. I just find that so intrinsically wrong and against American principles,” she said. “I just find it so against logic and against good principle for a state to create a situation where hardworking people cannot afford to live in their home.”
Milne said the property taxes on his home of 21 years have gone up 700 percent since he moved in. “That’s the problem that we have right now. We’ve got school population … down 20 percent down in the last 15 years,” he said.
He criticized Shumlin for failing to address property taxes in the last legislative session and promised to propose his own plan if lawmakers do not act.
“We didn’t see any bill come from the administration, or in my opinion at least, to work with the House and Senate to get something done,” Milne said.
“We need to have a plan and I promised voters if I’m governor in 2015 there will be a plan that I’ll work cooperatively with the House and Senate to bring to Vermonters,” he added. “I will propose something unilaterally from the governor’s office if the House and Senate do not act.”
Jim from Bennington raised concerns about a potential 11 percent payroll tax to help cover the cost of Shumlin’s proposed universal access, publicly funded health-care system.
“Is there any realistic chance of funding that or is it just a joke?” he asked.
Milne said he is “suspicious” of a state-level single payer health-care plan that Shumlin seeks. He said he would “have a very definite plan and proposal for people to think about when they vote in November.”
But Milne also faulted Shumlin for not yet presenting a financing plan for his proposed health-care system. “They did nothing to come up with a plan to come up with how they’re going to pay for this health-care plan,” he said.
Milne said his campaign and administration would be “focused very, very much on what’s practical, not coming up with ideas and selling them to people because it’s popular.”
Lance from Barnard said he would like to see more decision making returned to municipalities “so we can get a handle on money we’re wasting.” He advocated for a return of “neighbor helping neighbor as it used to be.”
Milne, noting local control is one of the principles of his campaign, said he supports that idea.
“The more local a decision can be made, the easier it is to understand where people come from when you have differences of opinion,” he said. “The more local a decision can be made the better.”
Another caller asked for his position on school consolidation and the use of common core curriculum in education.
Milne said some communities are “taking some pretty innovative and strong actions to decide on their own how and whether they’re going to consolidate schools.” But he said he has no specific answer or policy.
“Perhaps there may be some incentives for the state to encourage that, but I would not have a top-down forcing of consolidation,” Milne said.
He also said he supports local curriculum in Vermont schools.
The campaign placed 30,000 calls to registered voters and asked them stay on the line for the town hall meeting. The campaign provided options for callers on the line to volunteer or donate. The event was moderated by Milne’s daughter, Elise. It was unclear Thursday evening how many callers participated.
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