Debbie Ingram: Chittenden County Democrat Candidate For Vermont Senate, 2016

Q: Should the work of a State Government be performed by a State Employee?

A: Yes, State employees fill invaluable roles in many departments of State government, including corrections, colleges, judicial, housing authority, and many others. Our state would not be able to function without them.



Q: As an elected official, how would you approve the overall safety of state employees?

A: I would directly ask the state employees in different categories what they need to make their jobs safer – because of course it’s the people on the ground who are doing the jobs who know the most about what safety measures would be most helpful.

As DCF workers have so clearly articulated, smaller case loads for case managers, limits on how many investigations each investigator should handle, and having limits on the numbers of employees supervisors oversee would help to make their department safer. In general, adequate staffing levels in all departments would ensure that workers are not put at risk.

Increasing the number of metal detectors at state office buildings and instituting a special force for Agency of Human Services workers would also be measures that I would advocate for as a public official. I would also always be attentive to other ideas that employees would bring forward.



Q: What is your plan to make the health care system more fair and equitable for working Vermonters?

A: My ultimate goal is a system that provides universal access through a single channel of payment. This cannot be instituted overnight, but we need to get back on the path that would lead Vermont to this ultimate goal. Insurance needs to be de-coupled from employment, and a fair system that removes the severe cost shifting that currently takes place, replacing premiums with equitably assessed fees, needs to be instituted. All Vermonters would be guaranteed health care simply because they are human beings, and health care is a public good, like police or fire protection.

The biggest barrier to this system is cost, but for the huge amount of money we spend annually on the current system, we can undoubtedly pay for a universal system and implement various means to control costs.



Q: Will you support collective bargaining and vote against “Right to Work” legislation in any form?

A: Absolutely.



Q: What do you see as the role of State employees and how would you support them in their role?

A: State employees make most of our most vital State functions work – as corrections officers, children and family social workers, state college staff, at housing authorities, and in many other supervisory and non-management roles. As an elected official, my door would always be open to the union and its staff, leadership, and members. My strong support of labor dating back to when I was a child raised by parents who were dyed-in-the-wool FDR Democrats would make me a champion, not just a supporter, of state employee rights and requests.



Q: What mechanisms would you put in place to avoid budget shortfalls?

A: The fact that we consistently have budget shortfalls year after year is an indicator that we have some serious structural deficiencies in our budgeting process. I would like to examine the suggestions made by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Taxation, whose recommendations were largely ignored, and take a long-term rather than a temporary stop-gap view of the budget. Ways to increase revenue and decrease the tax burden of middle-income and low-income Vermonters must be given serious consideration. One example is expanding the sales tax to cover services while at the same time lowering the sales tax rate. Another idea is to use Adjusted Gross Income as the baseline for state income tax as almost every other state does, which would eliminate many deductions for those at higher income levels. These kinds of measures would more fairly tax those at the higher end of the income spectrum and lower taxes for working Vermonters.

What I would not do is support balancing the budget on the backs of Vermonters who are struggling to make ends meet working two or three jobs, or taking away services that supplement the wages of working Vermonters.



Q: What approach would you take to make higher education more affordable for Vermonters?

A: I would increase the investment that the state makes in our state colleges and university. Vermont has a woefully low level of public support for our higher education institutions, leading to some of the highest in-state tuitions for any state. By making higher income Vermonters pay closer to their fair share, the state will have the resources it needs to provide more support to our colleges. This investment in education will in turn attract businesses to the state, and/or keep them here, by ensuring that Vermont has a well-educated and highly trained workforce in jobs that fit a twenty-first century economy.



Q: What would you do to ensure the viability of the state college system?

A: Invest in state support of the colleges so that higher education is treated like a public good, with community investment, rather than a burden only for families and individuals. Vermont has been one of three states that has cut per-student state spending on public colleges the last two years, while at the same time increasing tuition. This is an unsustainable model that will continue to erode the viability of our much-needed college system. I would do everything I can in the legislature to promote spending on our colleges as an act of investment for Vermont’s long-term future. 



Q: Do you support a livable wage for Vermonters? If so, what do you think that amount should be?

A: I certainly do. An increase to $15 an hour would be the first step to take, then ensuring that annual increases keep up with the rate of inflation. We need to enact this wage sooner than later, so that this amount continues to be a true livable wage. I would like to introduce legislation that would raise the minimum to $15 beginning in 2018.



Q: Briefly state why the VSEA should endorse you and describe the type of assistance that you would be seeking from a VSEA endorsement.

A: The VSEA endorsed me when I ran for the state senate in 2012, and if anything, my support for labor has only deepened and grown since that time.
As for my record as a public servant, the Town of Williston, where I serve on the Selectboard, has maintained a good relationship with municipal employees over the years I have been in office.

Also, in my job as Executive Director of Vermont Interfaith Action, I have worked closely with the faith community to further a campaign to “Build Vermont’s Moral Economy,” which has placed a strong emphasis on treating workers well and paying them a livable wage. I would refer you to the document which summarizes VIA’s stance, with which I personally agree: I have also spoken in nine different regions of the state, partnering with Paul Cillo of Public Assets Institute, to mobilize grassroots support for the concepts of a moral economy, which has been covered by several articles in And the request for a more transparent budgeting process, which reveals where programs are being under-funded, passed this legislative session due to my leadership in the VIA organizing process.

The type of assistance I would seek from a VSEA endorsement would be turning out votes for me in the primary and general elections through the union’s membership in Chittenden County. I would also ask for any financial assistance for campaign materials that would be available.