The Vermont Early Childhood Alliance, Let's Grow Kids and Building Bright Futures hosted the event. With an open seat for governor, organizers wanted to hear the candidates’ stances on the issues most important to them. The four candidates got eight minutes each to speak to hundreds of people in a hotel conference room.
Former state transportation secretary Sue Minter said parents' inability to access affordable childcare is stalling workforce development. As governor, she said she’ll work to create childcare centers at or near community colleges, to eliminate at least one barrier to higher education for parents.
“One initiative I’m going to take on is making sure that students at Vermont community colleges have childcare,” Minter said. “We’re going to bring the two points together: get child care they need and education that their parents need.”
Former Windsor County senator Matt Dunne called for reforms in childcare subsidy programs in state government. Dunne said the existing income eligibility thresholds act as a disincentive for professional advancement, since small wage increases can result in massive reductions in childcare subsidies.
“And too many Vermont families, too many single parents, are literally making the choice to not pursue their career because they will end up net behind if they’re doing right by their children,” Dunne said.
The Republican candidates, meanwhile, said they’d seek to improve childhood education, and access to affordable childcare, by way of institutional changes in the way government operates.
Former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman said he isn’t ready to promise funding for specific programs. But Lisman said his administration would bring a collaborative spirit that would lead to improvements in the way government approaches those issues.
“What we need more than anything is an administration sensitive to your needs, not a promise," Lisman said. "A sensitivity to your needs, and to the cause of making certain that children when they are born have an equal opportunity."
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said the state needs to improve access to childcare, and improve education quality. But he said the state can’t begin to tackle those problems until it “makes Vermont affordable again.”
Delivering that affordability, according to Scott, requires revenue and regulatory reforms he says would make the state more hospitable to the private sector.
“We need to look at targeted investments like tax incentives and policies that give Vermont a competitive edge in recruiting young talent, and we need to streamline the process for building housing that is truly affordable,” Scott said.
Several other people are considering gubernatorial candidacies on the Democratic side, including former Wardsboro Rep. John Moran and former Windham County senator Peter Galbraith.