Sue Minter: Democrat Candidate For Vermont Governor, 2016

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

A: As a 10 year VSEA member I will be a strong advocate for state employees.

I believe that the State of Vermont’s system of government operates more effectively and efficiently when State employees are at the forefront in providing service to Vermonters. Relying on State employees to do the work of state government is cost-effective, results in good service to Vermonters, and benefits our state’s economy.  

Some work is appropriately performed by specialized and temporary contractors when the nature of that work is highly specialized, short-term in nature, or requires the use of unique and expensive equipment or technology beyond the capacity of the State of Vermont to purchase and maintain.  Also, there can be synergistic opportunities for state agencies to collaborate with businesses, non-profit organizations, colleges and universities, and other government agencies in ways that leverage State human and financial resources to maximize the effectiveness of State investments for Vermont.

At the Agency of Transportation the state oversees the work of contractors to construct major infrastructure projects, and I see this as an appropriate role for private sector work.  However, as Secretary I saw an over-reliance on private sector consultants.  In response, I successfully advocated for new state employees. In addition to adding these new positions (particularly as we responded to Tropical Storm Irene in 2012-2013), I advocated for a position Pilot to both add new positions and analyze the overall cost savings on these positions. I believe this should be continued so that we can focus on providing great service for Vermonters, support our employees, and save tax dollars when possible.

I am not, generally in favor of privatizing the work of State government.  The State should only enter into contracts for services in the limited circumstances described above.  I would approach consideration of proposals to privatize existing State government functions with skepticism.  Those who advocate for broadly privatizing the functions of State government as a cost-saving measure often misunderstand that real long-term cost effectiveness in state government depends upon ensuring that we have a strong State employee workforce.  I have worked side-by-side with the people in Vermont State government for many years and know how skilled, knowledgeable, and dedicated they are. I am committed to continuing our investment in State employees in order to ensure that Vermonters get the highest quality service possible.



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

A: At the Agency of Transportation, our overriding mission was safety — beginning with the safety of our workers.  Having spent workdays in our VAOT Garages, including being a flagger, running heavy equipment and getting under the engines at the Central Garage, I learned directly the ways that Vermont’s State employees can be in harm’s way in their service to the public.  This is why I initiated a new Training Center at VTrans, which had mandatory safety training, among other critical trainings. My team knew how important worker safety was to the success of our organization and we worked hard to create a strong culture of worker safety and a commitment to saving lives. I appreciate the work that VSEA does to help keep state workers safe.

I also worked hard as a leader at VTrans to ensure that our workplace was a safe and respectful workplace for employees, irrespective of their gender, ethnicity, age, race or gender identity.  When I learned that there had been a history of sexual harassment (including allegations of sexual assault) at some of the VTrans garages, I worked hard to make the workplace safe for women.  I made sure that employees knew that we had a “zero tolerance” policy for discrimination or harassment of any type and established an Affirmative Action Task Force to try to increase diversity in our workforce.  I am proud that under my leadership the number of women in the Maintenance Workforce doubled.  I also established lactation facilities for nursing moms so that they would not have to choose between work and nursing their babies (as I did when I was a new mom).

I know that every day of the year, a State employee, whether snow plow driver, a police officer, game warden, health inspector, or social worker, among many others, find themselves in situations in which their physical and emotional health are at risk. I also know that the work environment for many of our State employees has not been sufficiently maintained with basic systems such as those for security, ergonomics and ventilation not functioning at a satisfactory level.

I saw firsthand during the State’s response to the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene the many State employees who worked long and hard in stressful and frequently dangerous situations to help Vermont’s communities get back on their feet.  I both appreciate this kind of sacrifice, so common in Vermont state government, and am committed to ensuring that the State responds to the desire of State employees to serve the public with a commitment to their safety and health. I was pleased to see the passage of S.154 with increased criminal penalties for attacks against State employees and H.74 requiring all state agencies to develop and implement safety protocols. 

I favor working actively across all State agencies to ensure that we have good systems, physical and operational, for protecting the health and safety of State employees.  While we can all decry the rise in violence in today’s society, we cannot and must not deny that we face an ongoing risk of the kind of attack that occurred in Barre last year when Lara Sobel was murdered.  If elected, I will continue the important work that followed her death to ensure that such a tragedy is not repeated.



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

A: The rising cost of health care to Vermonters is one of the biggest cost-drivers that are breaking family budgets, our school budgets and our state budget.  If this cost increase continues unabated we will continue to have significant budget pressures for every Agency of state government.  I will support the efforts of the Green Mountain Care Board to control healthcare costs by reforming our provider payment model through capitated payments rather than the current fee-for-service model.  The goal is to compensate health care providers for prevention and integrated care, rather than compensation for more pills, visits and procedures. The effect of incentivizing health care payment for healthy outcomes should lead to greater emphasis on prevention and integrated care, which will both keep us more healthy and lower costs.

Moving forward as Governor I will also evaluate the 2proposals to secure universal coverage for primary care and for the expansion of Dr. Dynasaur for young people up to age 26.

Finally, I encourage employees to lead healthy lifestyles and eat healthy foods.  I will lead by example by by participating in health and recreation events like the Corporate Cup, and regular lunchtime walks and runs with employees who would like to join me.



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

A: The strength of Vermont’s economy has always been its middle class. In turn, our middle class has benefited greatly over the past century from strong unions.  Collective bargaining gives an important voice to every member of the union.  In the case of State employees, VSEA can be an important partner with State leadership in ensuring that we have a skilled, knowledgeable and motivated workforce.  Developing effective and appropriate compensation systems and structures, and helping to improve the management of State government requires that State employees are represented by a sophisticated and competent union. All Vermont State employees benefit from being represented by a Union. I support collective bargaining and would oppose any “Right to Work” legislation and would veto any such bill that landed on my desk as Governor.



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

A: What I learned as Secretary of Transportation is that our employees are our greatest asset. Vermont’s State employees do not just have a role in Vermont’s government — they are Vermont’s state government.  State employees are the face of Vermont state government — the people that Vermonters interact with every day across the state as they seek and benefit from the programs and services provided by Vermont agencies and departments. State employees are also working behind the scenes to provide the public services that make Vermont a great place to live, work and raise a family.

As a former state employee, state legislator and state agency leader, I know better than most, that the work of state government depends upon its State employees and I would bring that experience and belief to bear on my decisions and actions. Starting with appointing strong leaders, people who know how to manage and work effectively with people in and out of their agencies.  I will also hold my cabinet accountable for working together across state government to ensure that we have good systems and strategies in place to ensure that our State employees have the tools to get the job done.  Knowing that our workforce is aging I will require my Agency leaders to develop succession planning and improve recruitment and retention within the workforce so that we can ensure our services are sustained.  My goal will be to make Vermont State Government an employer of choice for young people.

As a 15 year state employee, including 10 as a VSEA member in the classified system, I also know that the work of state employees are often not respected. As Governor my goal will be to help Vermonters better understand the important work that state employees do, and to be a champion for the importance of public service. I will visit with employees throughout the state to listen to their challenges and their ideas on how to innovate in order to make the work we do better.



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

A: State government budget shortfalls may be unavoidable in the current economy with continuing federal budget cuts and changes in national and global economies. With that said, we can do more to ensure that Vermont’s State budget can withstand the economic headwinds.

First, we must invest in economic policies that increase the the opportunity for Vermonters to hold livable wage jobs. Growing jobs can grow revenues for our state budget. I have proposed an array of new economic policies and programs that are intended to invest state energy, capacity and resources in strengthening local economies across the State through supporting, promoting and recruiting a diverse mix of businesses and employers.  A stable, thriving economy is our best hedge against State budget fluctuations.

Second,we need to reform, modernize and strengthen Vermont’s tax code.  This code, established decades ago, was based on a durable goods economy whereas our current economy is predominantly a service sector economy.

Finally, we can increase the capacity of State government by focusing on improving and modernizing our internal systems and business processes. Given the right tools and support to innovate, we can find new and better ways of doing the business of State government. As Sec. Of VTrans I saw employees use innovation to achieve greater efficiency and reduce costs. By finding new and innovative ways to serve Vermonters, we can build trust with the Vermont public and reverse the decades-long trend of skepticism, replacing a desire to cut state government, with a willingness to invest in results.



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

A: As governor I will work to reduce student debt and make higher education more accessible to Vermonters, particularly first generation college students. Educating our next generation will be among my highest priority as your next Governor.

Vermont’s economic future depends upon our having a highly skilled, knowledgeable and educated workforce.  Our small State’s system of colleges and universities, public and private, are among the best in the country.  We must work in partnership with the leaders of these institutions to ensure that more Vermonters have access to higher education. 

First we will make sure that all Vermonters take advantage of the existing programs — state and federal — for financial assistance with college enrollment.  We need to ensure that all Vermont high school students, especially those who are economically disadvantaged or from first generation households, are provided with student counseling services (both through VSAC and the school counsellors) that help students navigate the college financial aid process.  In spite of the program’s we now have in place, we know that many high school students do not apply to college because they do not understand the resources available to them.

I will also pursue programs to help students refinance their existing debt as well as tax incentives for businesses that both assist with student debt repayment and offer internships for longer term employment.

Finally, I will make child care available to new parents who desire to enroll in the Vermont State community college system.  Too often, young parents face the impossible choice between pursuing their own education and taking care of their children.  As a result, those parents and families face a significant opportunity gap and barrier to economic independence.  Providing greater access to higher education for parents of small children can help break the cycle of poverty and will benefit the larger economy.



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

A: My goals for improving the viability of our state college system is to 1) better promote the system to increase student enrollment (both in-and out-of-state); 2) reduce tuition costs and debt loads for students ; 3) invest in facility upgrades where needed; 4) ensure that our state colleges are well-linked to the workforce needs of our employers.

The most important step we can take to ensure that our State colleges remain viable is to make sure that Vermont high school students, and out-of-state high school students as well, know what a terrific education they can get in Vermont.  I would work with my Secretary of Education, The Vermont State College Chancellor and Board as well as UVM to develop a strategic marketing effort targeted toward high school students who would benefit from an education in Vermont. The increase of students into our state colleges will decrease the operating costs and tuition increases.

Our state college system has been significantly under capitalized over the last decade. As governor, I will work with the State Colleges to invest capital funds to the state buildings and infrastructure.  The goal will be to both improve the facilities of the state colleges and to reduce tuition costs.

I will also work with the major employers in Vermont and the region to invest in cutting edge educational programs to serve the 21st century workforce.  We need more programs, developed in partnership with employers, that involve experiential learning and apprenticeships to give our students the skills, knowledge and relationships to find high-paying jobs.  Our State colleges are well-positioned to adapt to the evolving demands being placed on new college graduates and to help them compete for the next generation of jobs. 



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

A: We should ensure that all working Vermonters are compensated fairly and at a level that allows them to live with dignity and to support themselves and their families.  I do support a livable wage for all Vermont workers.  I support increasing the minimum wage, with stepped increases, beginning with $12.50/ hour in 2018 with a goal of $15/ hour.  At the same time, simply increasing the minimum wage is not enough.  State government can, working together across all agencies, implement policies that will increase the types and numbers of jobs available, as well as training for these jobs, so that Vermonters can access livable wage jobs and a prosperous future.



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: As a 10 year VSEA member (within the classified system) and then as the Secretary of the state’s second largest Agency, I know well the challenges and pressures upon many of our workforce.  I know that our employees are our greatest asset, and need support, training, resources and a living wage.  I am a manager with labor values and will bring my understanding of workforce challenges into the Governor’s office.

As governor I will be there for VSEA employees and I am asking you to support me in this campaign with an endorsement.  I will look forward to any investment the VSEA will make into my campaign through member to member communications, mailings, volunteers, letters to the editor, public announcements or direct contributions.

I look forward to working with you now and into the future.