State of Vt economy divides gubernatorial candidates
By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau | October 25,2012
Is it the best of times? Or the worst?
The final gubernatorial debate before the Nov. 6 election became a tale of two economies Wednesday as Gov. Peter Shumlin and Republican challenger Randy Brock jousted over jobs.
The Democratic incumbent said Vermont’s status as the only state to see per-capita income rise over the last year is testament to his leadership. That Vermont enjoys the sixth-lowest unemployment rate in the nation and the fastest-growing economy in New England, according to the most recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, should give Vermonters sufficient cause, Shumlin said, to stay the course.
“I’m proud of the progress we’ve made,” Shumlin said during a 90-minute back-and-forth hosted by The Burlington Free Press. “I inherited a tough economy, just as did President Obama. ... We are making progress in Vermont on jobs.”
Brock, however, said Shumlin had cherry-picked statistics to craft a political narrative that ignores the economic pressures on Vermonters. Citing the same federal data as Shumlin, Brock said the unemployment rate under Shumlin has jumped from 4.7 percent to 5.4 percent.
While Shumlin touts the fact that Vermont has the sixth-lowest jobless rate in the country, Brock said, he fails to mention that it was the fourth-lowest when he was inaugurated in January 2011.
Shumlin accused Brock of “dooming and glooming” and said Vermont needs an economic cheerleader, not a naysayer.
“The tone of the campaign you’ve been running, Randy, tells us what a terrible place Vermont is to do business,” Shumlin said. “I’ve never sold a product by telling folks before they buy it how terrible it is. How are we going to grow jobs in an environment where you’re going around telling folks how terrible it is in Vermont?”
Brock said Vermont won’t be able to reverse its economic fortunes until it’s willing to own up to its shortcomings.
“I think as a leader I have an absolute obligation to tell (residents) not only good things but bad things,” Brock said. “It doesn’t mean you’re bad-mouthing Vermont. It means you’re telling people the truth.”
Wednesday’s debate featured an exchange centered on Brock’s plan to cut the state work force by 10 percent. Brock said that would help reduce the tax rates he blames for hampering economic growth.
Shumlin challenged his rival to identify which divisions of government he’d downsize. Brock said he couldn’t name the areas without the benefit of a full inventory of the state work force and the services it provides.
“Everything has a value, but some things are more important than others, and the real task of leadership is to decide what’s most important,” Brock said.
With less than two weeks until the election, the candidates will spend the coming days traversing the state. As of the last campaign finance filing, Shumlin enjoyed a massive financial edge over Brock. The incumbent had more than $1 million at his disposal, while the challenger had about $100,000 on hand.