- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - After almost four years on the job, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has presided over the recovery from the state’s worst natural disaster in almost a century, pushed to make his state the first in the country to create a single-payer health care system and sought to wean the state from fossil fuels.

The two-term Democratic incumbent now running for a third, two-year term isn’t shying away from the bold change he’s convinced are critical to the state’s long-term success. Indeed, he is making them the centerpiece of his campaign.

Never mind the state’s health care website that is part of the federal Affordable Care Act is offline, plagued with technical problems and that - despite one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country - the number of Vermonters living in poverty is continuing to go up and the median income is falling.

Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press, Shumlin talked of the thousands of jobs that have been created since he took office in early 2011, how he’s working to revitalize the state’s once-forgotten downtowns and how Vermont is sure to lead the nation if it can successfully create its single-payer health care system, critical to the state’s long-term success.

“We’ve led in many areas, my point is if you are still struggling to find a job, or your income hasn’t gone up, none of that matters,” Shumlin said. “We have more work to do.”

Shumlin is being challenged in next month’s election by Republican Scott Milne, Libertarian Dan Feliciano and four other candidates.

While Shumlin calls for bold change, Milne has been campaigning with the goal of slowing things down, making Vermont more, as Milne put it in a recent debate, “boring.” Feliciano, tapping into a vein of political thought unhappy with Milne’s GOP candidacy, wants government to get out of the way.

Shumlin’s push for bold change comes while local education costs are continuing to rise, which translates to rising property taxes across Vermont at a time when the number of school children in the state continues to decline.

Shumlin has three main goals to keep his agenda moving forward: Reducing property taxes, which are being driven by local education costs; reduce health care costs; and continuing to invest in downtowns and renewable energy.

The top of Shumlin’s list has bedeviled Vermont leaders for decades, how to keep local education costs in check and reduce property tax increases.

“We have a school spending problem. We’ve seen our student count drop over 30,000 students - it’s going to continue to drop - and we have not right-sized the ship,” he said.

He says the state now has the data to show what will happen to costs over time.

“When you see those numbers in many of our small rural communities, it’s pretty frightening,” he said.

He wants state education officials to work with local communities to find ways to save money, be it school consolidation, combining classes or other locally designed savings.

“The point is what works for Barton might not work for Brattleboro,” Shumlin said. “You’ve got to be sure that it is designed locally, it’s a partnership and we come up with solutions together to both improve education quality and reduce property taxes.”

Despite Vermont’s much-discussed woes with the current health care system, Shumlin remains convinced a single-payer health care system is the route to Vermont success.

He originally called for it to be ready by 2017. Now he says “as close to 2017 as we can get.”

When asked if that’s a change, Shumlin answers, “I’ve learned from the Affordable Care Act, don’t pick dates you can’t meet.”

The state is on the path to switch the health care system to one where health care professional are paid for each service they provide to paying them to keep people as healthy as possible, he said.

“By moving to a system that spends our health care dollars more wisely, curbs the cost of increase and moves to a universal access to all Vermonters, we can have a significant economic advantage over our neighbors by getting that right,” Shumlin said.

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