Candidate: Katherine Sims
House District: Orleans-Caledonia (Albany, Barton, Craftsbury, Glover, Greensboro, Sheffield, Wheelock)
What should be legislative priorities in the next session?
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the great inequalities in our communities. Our rural towns are the heart of Vermont, yet too often state policies leave us behind. Many of our community members struggle to access housing, health care, childcare, and high-speed internet. The path to recovery for many small businesses is uncertain. And now, with the challenge to Northern Vermont University, our closest institution of higher education is also threatened.
I believe we can emerge from this crisis a stronger Vermont, more inclusive, more equitable, and more resilient if we seize this opportunity. The top priorities for the coming year should be rebuilding our rural economy, modernizing our infrastructure including access to broadband, and protecting the most vulnerable Vermonters as they struggle with the combined effects of a pandemic and economic crisis. We must elect leaders who will collaborate with our communities and statewide officials to address the challenges we face and build a bright future for Vermont.
What would you say are the top three priorities of the people you represent?
Like other rural parts of Vermont, families in our district struggle to access housing, health care, childcare and high-speed internet. Young people burdened by student debt are leaving to find jobs elsewhere. We need more investment to strengthen our economy and support efforts to combat and adapt to climate change.
I am running for state representative because I believe we deserve more. No matter where you live, you deserve the opportunity to thrive. We want a Vermont that invests in rural communities. Where all families have a fair shot in today’s economy. Where we protect the land and environment for future generations.
Together, we can:
1. Rebuilding our rural economy - Local businesses are the heart of our community and when we grow and sustain our local businesses, we build strong communities. We need to rebuild an economy that puts Vermonters back to work with decent paying jobs. I will fight to: provide COVID-19 recovery support for small businesses and farms, create jobs through infrastructure and weatherization programs, invest in regional marketing campaigns, reform permitting processes to create easy to navigate, commonsense regulation that balances environmental concerns with economic interests, and build a stronger and more diverse workforce pipeline from our high schools through to our technical schools and colleges on to the workforce
2. Modernize our infrastructure and bring broadband. The NEK is an incredibly attractive place to live, work, and play but we lack some basic infrastructure required to realistically attract and retain residents. I will fight to: expand access to high-speed, affordable internet and cell service, build and renovate housing Vermonters can afford, expand our transportation infrastructure and improve our roads, and expand support for town wastewater infrastructure
3. Invest in Working Vermonters. Vermont’s families are the foundation of our communities, yet too many are struggling to make ends meet. I will fight to: increase access to affordable healthcare, reduce taxes for working Vermonters, increase access to high-quality, affordable childcare, care for Vermont’s elders, create universal paid family and medical leave, and address trauma and mental health needs within our communities.
Define “effective legislator.”
As your State Representative, I will 1) listen to your concerns and ideas, 2) do research to make informed decisions, 3) advocate for everyone, especially those who are underrepresented, 4) help you to get the answers and services you need, 5) keep you updated about what’s going on in the statehouse, 6) be honest, and, 7) work hard.
Where do you feel you differ from the other contenders in your district that makes you the candidate worthy of election?
I have the track record you want in a representative - a reputation for getting things done, the ability to unite diverse groups, and a commitment to advocating for the most vulnerable.
For over a decade, I have worked to listen to our community and to bring people together to implement creative solutions to solve our communities’ biggest challenges:
● I founded Green Mountain Farm-to-School to build gardens, teach kids about food, and create new markets for farmers
● As a mom, I worked with other families to start a childcare center and increase access to affordable childcare
● As a board member of the Vermont Land Trust, I’ve worked to increase access to farmland and conserve open space.
● As a grassroots organizer, I worked with 27 towns to form a Communications Union District to increase access to high-speed internet
● Right now, as the Director of the NEK Collaborative, I am dedicating my time to coordinating town volunteers, compiling resources for vulnerable populations, and implementing our recovery plan for the region.
Through my work, I’ve learned that when we show up, listen, learn, and put in the hard work, we can do big things for our communities.
Does the state budget need cutting or an influx of additional revenue?
We need to align our budget with our priorities. Our state needs to look hard at our expenses. I’d like to see an independent audit of all agencies, departments and systems to look at ways to streamline services, improve outcomes and reduce operational costs. I have extensive experience running a business, so I know first hand how important it is to create a budget, raise those funds, to be frugal, and spend within your means.
At this point, there are so many unknowns about the coming year that it’s hard to predict whether we will need additional revenue. So much depends on the outcome of the Presidential election and whether we’ll continue to see significant federal resources coming into the state to help our communities weather this unprecedented crisis.
Inequality is at an all time high and hurts us all. Trump tax cuts gave the richest Vermonters over $100M in tax breaks. Median household income is $55K and nearly ⅓ of our folks live near poverty. We must create a more progressive education funding formula which ends property tax on primary residences, continues property tax on non-residential property and moves the bulk of education tax to an income-based system to allow Vermonters to pay what they can afford.
If cuts are needed, where are the areas to consider? If more revenue is needed, what would you spend it on and what tax or fee increases should be considered to pay for it?
Too many Vermonters are struggling to make ends meet. We must ensure that the wealthiest people and large corporations pay their fair share of taxes and reduce the tax burden on the average Vermonters.The wealthiest in our state received millions of dollars in federal tax cuts, while our hospitals, colleges and communities have suffered. I support implementing a progressive tax structure. This includes creating a more progressive education funding formula which ends property tax on primary residences, continues property tax on non-residential property and moves the bulk of education tax to an income-based system to allow Vermonters to pay what they can afford. I also support moving social services provided by schools out of education budgets to lower property taxes. I believe those resources should be invested in affordable childcare, healthcare reform, family leave policies, and weatherization efforts which would leave more money in working Vermonters pockets.
What do you think of education funding in Vermont?
Our schools play a unique and invaluable role in our small communities. We must ensure equitable access to viable education. I believe that each community knows best how to educate its children and that critical decisions - like keeping our schools - should be made at the local level.
For the last 20 years, our public education system has overtaxed and underfunded schools in Vermont’s rural and poor towns. According to the Pupil Weighting Factors Report commissioned by the legislature to study equity in Vermont’s Education Funding Formula, we incentivize spending less on students who cost more to educate and more on students who cost less to educate. Over the past 20 years, this has resulted in fewer opportunities and increased costs for poor and rural schools and higher taxes for Vermonters. To avoid further harm after twenty years of inequity in school resources, legislators must implement the weighting recommendations and update the education funding formula. We must act now to reveal the tax burden on rural Vermonters and ensure that all Vermont children, no matter where they live, have equal opportunity to thrive.
Do you support an increase in state funds to the Vermont State College System to aid struggling institutions like NVU-Lyndon? How much?
Northern Vermont University (NVU) is a key institution in our region actively unifying two colleges. NVU - Lyndon plays a critical role in the regional economy, providing not just education but jobs, community engagement, and a link to young people and prospective residents who can help ensure the long-term vitality of our area. The Vermont State Colleges receive so little state support (49th in the country) that our public institutions of higher education are some of the most expensive in the country. We must ensure that NVU - Lyndon has the resources and support it needs to thrive in our region. I will fight to bring state appropriation for the Vermont State College system to be in line with other New England states.
Is there racial injustice in Vermont and, if yes, what do you propose the legislature does to address it?
I believe that we cannot improve the quality of life for all Vermonters until the structures of racism in our country have been dismantled. It is evident that racial disparities persist in many ways throughout government at all levels. Vermont needs to do more to examine and root out systemic racism. In particular, it is important to examine how all legislation impacts marginalized communities. I commit to actively seeking out, building relationships with, and listening to people, organizations, and communities of color when considering any legislation, not just when it directly relates to race. I will fight to: implementation recommendations for ethnic studies curriculum standards, fund for professional learning for school educators, leaders and school boards, provide equal rights for all LGBTQIA+ people, provide Indigenous sovereignty over tribal land, reduce or eliminate mass incarceration through investments in prevention and changes to the criminal justice system, address the use of deadly force by law enforcement, to explore the question of reparations, and to re-think the role of police and police power in shaping our communities.
What does success from the Global Warming Solutions Act look like in Vermont? What, if any, problems could result from the GWSA?
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges in our lifetime and poses an existential threat to our planet. We must take aggressive action to reduce our harmful emissions so that our kids have a habitable planet. Vermont’s emission rates are the highest per capita in New England. Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) will be a success if, like other neighboring states with similar bills, Vermont sees a reduction in emissions. We must set emissions reduction goals and implement a plan to achieve those reductions in a way that protects the most vulnerable people, communities, and industries as we transition away from fossil fuel use. When we invest in new technologies, transportation efficiencies, and weatherization practices, we can save Vermonters money, keep dollars local, and create jobs. I will fight to maintain a moratorium on ridgeline wind and ensure that the recommendations from the 22-member expert Climate Council are approved by the Governor and legislature.
What, if any, additional firearms laws do you think are necessary in Vermont?
I support the 2nd amendment and responsible gun ownership. Vermont has a peaceful tradition of gun ownership and I don’t believe we need to make any significant changes to gun laws here in Vermont. Vermont is one of the very safest states in the country and I support enforcing existing gun laws.
I do believe that we should promote safe storage practices to disrupt access to firearms. The combination of suicidal ideation and access to firearms is lethal. And every year, hundreds of children gain access to an unsecured firearm and discharge it, often unintentionally hurting themselves or someone else. Leading research shows that responsible firearm storage can help mitigate the risk of unintentional shootings, primarily by children; suicide; and theft. As a representative I will encourage all gun owners to be responsible, and store their guns locked, unloaded, and with the ammunition stored separately from the firearm.
What are the strengths in the state’s economy? What are the weaknesses? What can state government do to address the weaknesses?
The NEK is an incredibly attractive place to live, work, and play. With killer food, great schools, creative locals and endless opportunities for recreation, the region is on its way up. However, we lack some basic infrastructure required to realistically attract and retain residents: quality, affordable housing, high-speed internet access, transportation, and incentives to attract employees. We need investment in the region to pair our unique offerings with modern requirements for sustainable living.
At the same time, we need permitting reform to help our small businesses thrive. Our working lands are the core essence of the Northeast Kingdom. They drive the economy through agriculture, forestry and recreation. And downtowns provide a needed social center in an otherwise isolating region. Our communities will thrive with easily navigable, commonsense regulation that balances environmental concerns with economic interests. Creative solutions and proactive planning can better support our communities. It’s time for act 250 reform.
Concerning the state’s plan to increase the minimum wage to $12.55 in January 2022, is the increase too much or too little?
Vermont families are struggling with stagnant wages and income inequality. It is unacceptable that someone can work full-time and not meet their basic needs. When families can’t meet basic needs they often rely on heating assistance, food stamps, government health programs - causing taxpayers to subsidize low-wage employers. If we can increase wages, we all do better. Raising the minimum wage puts more money directly in the pockets of Vermonters who work at the lowest rungs of our economic ladder. Many large, out-of-state retail and supermarket chains pay so little and offer so few benefits that their employees need to rely upon a range of government programs. With a higher minimum wage, those companies will pick up more of the tab for their employees, and taxpayers will get some relief.
What is your position on the state’s marijuana legalization efforts?
A well-regulated cannabis market will benefit communities through increased generated revenue, job creation, and by increasing the ability of law enforcement to more effectively address substance abuse.
In recent years the state has been trying to address a substantial unfunded liability in state employee retirement obligations, but the liability remains high and the number of retirees grows. What should be done?
This is a significant issue that threatens the economic security of Vermonters retirement and our state’s fiscal well-being overall. We are in this unfortunate situation because of past-years of underfunding and under performance of the investments funds. We have a responsibility to make full payments moving forward and to pay down our liabilities while making financially responsible decisions for our state’s future. We need to ensure that we are not in this situation again by honoring our financial obligations in the present.
What, if any, criminal justice and/or corrections department reforms do you advocate?
I believe we must reduce or eliminate mass incarceration through investments in prevention and changes to the criminal justice system. We must also address the use of deadly force by law enforcement, to explore the question of reparations, and to re-think the role of police and police power in shaping our communities. As a starting point, we must stop criminalizing poverty and mental health. We must end our reliance on for-profit prisons, ensure a just and supportive re-entry process after release, and provide humane conditions in holding facilities.
More About Katherine
Katherine, a Vermont Business Magazine 2014 “Rising Star”, has a strong record of launching creative solutions to the region’s most pressing issues. In 2007, she founded nonprofit Green Mountain Farm-to-School to advocate for childhood nutrition and farm viability. During Katherine’s tenure as director, the organization built school gardens across the region, educated thousands of children about healthy food, and created new markets for farmers.
Katherine has experience bringing people together to create positive change. In 2017, she was hired to lead the Northeast Kingdom Collaborative, which drives economic and community development by identifying priorities across sectors and taking action. As director, Katherine has proven her ability to work with a wide range of communities and organizations to make progress for our region. This includes initiating ballot measures to improve access to high-speed internet, securing over $400k for outdoor recreation efforts, hosting the annual NEK Day @ the Statehouse, and launching major annual events dedicated to the development of new leadership in the NEK.
Katherine has deepened her understanding of Vermont’s challenges and opportunities as a board member of the Vermont Land Trust, Northeast Kingdom Community Broadband, the Vermont Telecommunications & Connectivity Advisory Board, the Vermont Council on Rural Development, UVM Extension, and Craftsbury Saplings. Most recently, she served as a member of the NVU Strong Committee which was tasked with developing financially sustainable solutions that will ensure a strong and thriving future for Northern Vermont University for generations to come.
She lives in Craftsbury with her husband, Jeff Fellinger, and their two sons.