Election 2020: Matthew Choate

Matthew Choate

Candidate: Matthew Choate

Senate District: Caledonia-Orange (All Caledonia County towns, plus Bradford, Orange, Newbury, Topsham, Fairlee and W. Fairlee in Orange County)

Party: Democrat

Residence: Danville

What should be legislative priorities in the next session?

The top priority will be continuing our mitigation of, and eventually recovery from, Covid-19. We have an economy in distress, many Vermonters either out of work or continuing to be underemployed, and a public health threat ongoing. We will need measured return to the new normal and careful attention to our state’s finances as we move forward. In constructing the next budget or 2, revenues will be severely challenged. We have to ensure we make appropriate investments for the future while also taking care to preserve our safety net for those who have needs they can not meet.

What would you say are the top three priorities of the people you represent?

- Getting people back to work and the economy into recovery

- Ensuring the public is safe inclusive of our children who need to return to school

- Growing our local economy, adding jobs, and increasing opportunities for the people in the NEK

Define “effective legislator.”

- I think the most effective, and what I strived for when I served in 2009 and 2010 was first and foremost to represent the NEK in Montpelier with attention to excellent service for constituents. I answered every call, e-mail, and question and will continue to do so if elected this time, with an eye towards resolving issues for my constituents. Second, it is to advocate for those legislative actions that improve lives in our district, and our state. Third, it is to advocate for and secure appropriate allocation of state resources to our district, improving our transportation, healthcare, child care, education, housing, and other community needs.

Where do you feel you differ from the other contenders in your district that makes you the candidate worthy of election?

- I have had the unique experience of leading a healthcare organization, and indeed a sizable part of that organization in my areas of accountability, through the Covid-19 pandemic. I have seen and led through our team members losing child care, health care, employment, while dealing with their own or family’s illness. I have served in the legislature before and with that experience am well positioned to influence the next budgets ahead. We will have to make tough choices, but I will do them compassionately, in a non-partisan and thoughtful way, and with an eye towards the future. I have deep family roots in this area spanning many generations and will always act to care for our region to preserve it while allowing for growth and a robust economy, benefiting all of us.

Does the state budget need cutting or an influx of additional revenue?

There are definitely areas we can look at for reduction - I had to do so in my professional role this past several months. I also believe we have seen a sizable chunk of our population in this country benefit tremendously from the tax cuts of 2017, and those dollars have absolutely not flowed into our general economy to the benefit of all Vermonters. A state budget will always require balancing cuts against raising revenues, but if I have learned one thing in business, it is that you cannot cut your way to growth, no differently than you can raise revenues forever with no accountability for that. We will need to invest in those priorities that move Vermont forward and towards a more robust economy for all and reduce spending in areas that are either not performing or are funded beyond the capacity they need.

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?

I do feel our education system consumes substantial resources while at the same time our student population continues to decline. We must right size spending in the K-12 system, support the state colleges, and ensure access to high quality childcare and Pre-K. This will take some careful adjudication and work with all stakeholders to achieve, but it is necessary to move that direction. I feel most Vermonters feel they are taxed higher than citizens in many other states. We have to ensure we have a reasonable and progressive tax code. Revenue increases, whether fees or taxes, should be considered only when all spending has been optimized first.

What do you think of education funding in Vermont?

Vermonters insist on local control, but often decisions locally once aggregated result in skyrocketing property tax rates once the statewide formulas are applied. Key however to this spending is we ask the schools to finance health care, mental health care, specialty care, and many other non-education expenses. We need to first look at the demands on the school budgets, including an eye on the declining enrollment over the last 20 years. We have to right size spending first, then consider what gaps in funding there are to find the solution to close that. I feel too often we begin with the revenue side, and worry about the expense side later.

Do you support an increase in state funds to the Vermont State College System to aid struggling institutions like NVU-Lyndon? How much?

Yes, we must keep our State College System intact. I would look at more private-public partnerships (we have a nursing program with VTC that is an excellent model) to help bring more revenues in. The Colleges are economic and cultural powerhouses in our communities - we need to have a strong higher education system in the state to attract, train, and retain skilled professionals and workers in support of a growing economy.

Is there racial injustice in Vermont and, if yes, what do you propose the legislature does to address it?

Yes there is, but we need much more conversation and involvement of the public in solving the issues before the legislature attempts to intervene.

What does success from the Global Warming Solutions Act look like in Vermont? What, if any, problems could result from the GWSA?

Vermont cannot solve global warming by itself, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take reasonable steps to mitigate what we can. We need a national policy, but absent that, Vermont has set targets to reduce our carbon footprint and reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses. As passed, the GWSA creates a board to oversee the current progress towards those goals, additional best practices for municipalities and private entities to enact to help reach those goals, and allows for the State to be held accountable for failure to achieve targets on reductions in the future. Success to me would be that we make progress towards these goals with either no negative or better, a positive impact on our economy. Problems I see is that this bill isn’t particularly powerful and could create additional layers that slow actual progress towards goals.

What, if any, additional firearms laws do you think are necessary in Vermont?

I believe our current gun laws are sufficient

What are the strengths in the state’s economy? What are the weaknesses?

The strengths are the great things we have in common in Vermont - clean environment, good schools, excellent healthcare services, high quality colleges and higher education institutions, low crime, and an educated populous. In the NEK we have a robust food, arts, recreation, and tourism economy, a strong attractant for visitors from around our state, region, and country.

We are burdened by taxes, more because our population is aging and contracting than the actual rates of things. We feel the tax burden because it keeps going up and our number of payers shrinks. We need to grow Vermont. We need to invest in housing stock that is high quality, affordable, and downtown proximal. We need to invest in broadband everywhere. We need to support our colleges. We should put our efforts into helping those who live in Vermont remain here and also market Vermont as a place for others to come, backing up that marketing by investing in those services i just mentioned to help ensure people who come can start a business, find a job, buy an affordable house, and pay a reasonable tax burden.

Concerning the state’s plan to increase the minimum wage to $12.55 in January 2022, is the increase too much or too little?

It needs to go to at least $15, a basic livable wage for this state.

What is your position on the state’s marijuana legalization efforts?

Marijuana should be legal, regulated, and taxed. We dilly-dallied around with this for 5 years too long - this should have been done a long time ago.

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?

These were agreements made in good faith. They should be honored. If that is fiscally impossible (and I cannot comment as I do not have the direct financial reports and obligations in front of me), then they must be renegotiated in good faith with recipients.

What, if any, criminal justice and/or corrections department reforms do you advocate?

I would end the practice of out of state prison contracts. I want to see those individuals, on release, returned to their own communities for transitional housing, reintegration into the community, and restoration to the community where there crime was committed. I do not support the few towns in Vermont hosting prisons becoming long term repositories for those being returned to the community.

More About Matt

I’m 49 and live in West Danville. I grew up in Barnet where I was raised on our family’s 130-year old dairy farm. I attended and graduated from St. Johnsbury Academy (1988) and from the University of Vermont twice (Bachelors Degree-Biochemistry, 1992, Bachelor’s Degree-Nursing, 1997). I was an active member of CALEX Ambulance from 1987 to 2007, NVRH Auxiliary from 1983-1990, and was a staff member at NVRH from 1987-2012. I served as the nurse manager of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s Pediatric ICU 2005-2012 and Director of Children’s Hospital of Connecticut in Hartford, Conn, 2012-2016. I have been at Central Vermont Medical Center since 2016 as the Director of the Emergency Department and am currently the Vice President of Patient Care Services/Chief Nursing Officer, appointed in early 2017. I served in the Vermont Senate 2009-2010 and was on the Agriculture and Health & Welfare Committees.

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