Kesha Ram: Democrat Candidate For Vermont Lieutenant Governor, 2016

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

A: Yes, without reservation. Not only does it mean more good-paying jobs guaranteed to stay in-
state, but it strengthens our communities when our workforce is invested in long-term outcomes.
Prisoners going out of state does less to rehabilitate them and keep them in touch with their
families; having more in-house expertise on our information technology systems means greater
accountability and consistency. The recent move to privatize workers’ compensation risk
management functions is pennywise and pound-foolish, achieving short-term budget savings at
the expense of longer range planning and training to keep state workers safe and productive.
We need to attract talent to Vermont with good-paying, well-supported state jobs, and certainly
prioritize that over sending dollars out-of-state.



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

A: Supporting safe, healthy workplaces is a priority for me, particularly having worked in the
movement against domestic and sexual violence. This allowed me to witness firsthand the
threats of harm and dangerous situations faced by DCF workers, Corrections employees, and
courthouse staff.

First, based on the escalating threats of violence at a time when state workers are being asked
to do more with less, this is the exact wrong time to farm out risk management rather than keep
it in-house. As a board member of a large institution, our risk management and human
resources teams represents one of the most vital in helping us meet our fiduciary responsibility
and maintain a sustainable future. We can lead and innovate through elevating the voices of
staff in expressing safety concerns, working on cooperative solutions, and sharing best
practices across departments.

Second, state workers simply cannot continue to be asked to do more with less. This is
particularly evident in human services caseloads, where being spread thin could mean missing
queues that a staff person or client’s life is endangered. Court workers often manage plaintiffs
and defendants in relatively close quarters in situations where extra staff support can make the
difference between escalating and deescalating conflict. This is not only a problem that must be
addressed through greater staffing to reduce caseloads, but with creating systems that cut down
on travel time and increase time spent supporting Vermonters. When serving on the General,
Housing, & Military Affairs Committee, which oversees labor matters, we worked to pass
legislation prohibiting the use of mandatory overtime for state employees. These are the kinds
of matters of safe staffing levels that we must continue to explore and address.
Finally, it is important to speak to workers directly — from DCF workers to mental health staff to our road crews — to better understand their experience on a daily basis. From working in the
non-profit sector and local government, as well as seeing it as a legislative responsibility, I have
continually sought out the feedback of workers on the frontlines. For example, after the murder
of Lara Sobel, I reached out to DCF workers in Barre. While her death may not have been
preventable, we owe it to her and all state employees to recognize that they put their lives and
personal safety on the line every day. The workers I met told me that they face high case loads,
long days with extensive travel, and potential dangers — but that they want legislators to know
they do it because they care about Vermont’s families and children. They want to feel validated and supported in the face of increased aggression. That is why, in addition to promoting action
steps throughout the session, I introduced a resolution at the beginning of the legislative session
to thank DCF workers for supporting our most vulnerable Vermonters through crisis while facing escalating threats of harm.



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

A: While we should be proud to have a low uninsured rate among Vermonters, accessing health
care still remains unaffordable for many families.

In the short-term, we need to reduce the number of underinsured Vermonters by invest more in
reducing deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. We also need to evaluate our IT contracts and
support for staff to finally have a functioning health care exchange. We also continue to spend
significant resources on avoidable emergency room visits related to substance abuse, mental
health, and chronic conditions because prevention and treatment services are still limited on the

In the long-term, we need to put Vermont back on a path toward unified, universal health care
coverage and access. I was proud to support studying the expansion of Dr. Dynasaur to cover
more young Vermonters and reduce the need for family plans..



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

A: Yes. Collective bargaining is a vital right for working Vermonters. We should be increasing
access, not threatening to take it away. Last year, a page was taken right out of the Koch
brothers’ playbook with the removal of teachers’ right to strike in education reform legislation. I
had just returned from taking my father’s ashes to India when this was coming to the floor, and
learned that an amendment would be introduced to study the possible ban on teacher strikes,
which I continued to find offensive to our Democratic values of supporting labor. I circled the
State House petitioning the Speaker and leadership to allow Democrats to vote their conscience
and not make it a caucus position to support the study. Both the study and underlying language
to ban teacher strikes failed by one vote. This was too close a call, and I will continue to be
vigilant in supporting collective bargaining in the future.



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

A: As one state worker put it at a recent dinner, our communities would be "trash" without state
employees. State workers care for our veterans, rehabilitate our offenders, help our most
vulnerable vermonters, support struggling families to become more self-sufficient, ensure
access to justice, and keep our roads paved and bridges strong, among so many other things.
State employees are the lifeblood and often the face of state government, and supporting them
means giving Vermonters a better customer service experience and creating thriving
communities. We need to make sure employees are heard, are being paid a livable wage, and
have the support they need to be proud of their service to Vermonters. As Lieutenant Governor,
that means working in partnership with state employees, the Administration, and the legislature
to elevate worker concerns and craft meaningful solutions.



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

A: Our current revenue systems are more volatile than other states and remain unsustainable
because they rely on taxation of a 21st century economy with 20th century policies. Our heavy
reliance on property and sales taxes are more regressive and result in diminishing or unstable
revenues, resulting in budget shortfalls to the potential for failure in keeping our basic promises
to our state employees and all Vermonters. The Blue Ribbon Tax Commission has important,
interconnected recommendations such as transitioning the sales tax and moving to Adjusted
Gross Income taxation that need to be moved back to the front burner. Tax expenditures also
make our budget less predictable and there are ones we could review for their efficacy,
including the income tax deduction for gambling losses. Finally, our budget must provide a path
for continued prosperity, growth, and self-sufficiency for Vermonters, such as reducing benefit
cliffs, which in turn will grow the grand list and incomes of Vermonters to expand revenues.



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

A: Higher education is our largest net importer of young Vermonters and talent, and we need to
support it as one of our most effective economic development tools. We must determine the
price tag of access to free college and weigh it against other budget priorities while seeking to
find a dedicated revenue source for higher education. In my opinion, a dedicated revenue
source would need to be something other than legalizing marijuana because, if we were to do
that, we would need available revenues to support prevention, treatment, and offender re-entry.
However, rethinking our Corrections and Reach Up programs to put more budget resources
toward creating a pipeline to college should be part of the discussion. We also need to expand
access to programs like early college and dual enrollment, and put additional resources toward
helping Vermonters access an affordable college education.



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

A: First, we need to promote capacity-building solutions for our state colleges by creating a more cohesive higher education system that puts Vermonters on a conveyor belt to opportunity
through community college, stackable credentials, and certification programs. Second,
supporting apprenticeships in our trades and manufacturing sector is also an important step,
and I introduced a tripartisan tax credit for such a program this year. Finally, we can and must
do more to promote access to higher education for Guard members, Reach Up participants, and
formerly incarcerated Vermonters. 



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

A: This is the bottom line — we cannot keep asking Vermonters to pay a Vermont premium on their cost of living while taking a Vermont discount on their wages. There is an opportunity cost to living in Vermont that is unsustainable.

The state comes up with a Basic Needs Budget every year, and I have long supported using the
available figures to drive policy that supports greater prosperity for Vermont families. I have
supported and will continue to support a higher minimum wage moving more swiftly to $15 an
hour, as Vermont’s current policy will have Vermonters waiting at least ten years to make a
minimum wage of $15 an hour with average inflation (which we have not achieved in recent
years). Additionally, even a $15 hourly wage does not get to the $19 hourly wage determined to
make housing affordable in Vermont. We need an aggressive investment in affordable housing
and homeownership to also buoy working Vermonters.



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: I served with distinction and a passion for supporting working Vermonters on the committee of jurisdiction for labor in the House for three years, including working to advance paid sick days, prohibit mandatory overtime for state employees, prohibit the arbitrary elimination of state
employee positions with moves to privatization, and ensure more workers had the right to
organize. I then spent an additional three years working on tax and health care reform on Ways
& Means. I am the only candidate in the race who has consistently worked in childcare, social
services, and local government. I have shown through my legislative and professional work that
I value and understand the tireless and meaningful efforts, long hours, and often thankless,
politically exposed work of state employees. Having grown up in an economically insecure
household, there was not a lot left over after paying rent and utilities for groceries and other
necessities. I will always remember where I cam from and that every Vermonter deserves to live
with the dignity of a wage that allows them to meet their basic needs.

I would be honored and proud to have the endorsement of VSEA, and would seek support with
boots on the ground, letters to the editor, and financial resources in the primary. Thank you for
your consideration.