|Interview with Anthony Pollina
Anthony Pollina spoke with DEMOCRACY IN ACTION on July 9, 2002 in the Progressive Party offices in Montpelier. He is the Progressive Party candidate for lieutenant governor in 2002. As the Progressive candidate for governor in 2000, Pollina obtained 9.5 percent of the vote.
|QUESTION: What do you think of Gov. Dean's record?
POLLINA: I think his record is spotty. He is a relatively conservative Democrat and I think as with any candidate, particularly one with a long record, citizens around the country should really look beyond the surface to get a better idea of who he is. There are some things that he should be proud of, but there are a lot of things that are of concern to those of us who live in Vermont.
So he goes around the country and talks about universal health care. Well frankly we don't have universal health care in Vermont. I heard him once on the radio say I don't understand why we can't have universal health care in America like every other industrialized country does. Well that's a theme that a lot of us have sounded for years here in Vermont and he has been resistant to that. So what I hear him saying sometimes on the national level is not completely reflective of the Howard Dean that I know. Again that's not to say that he has certainly done some good things.
QUESTION: What are two or three of the things that he's done a good job on?
POLLINA: We here in Vermont have extended health benefits to almost all our children through the Dr. Dynasaur program. That's a positive thing; that's a good thing. We need to keep in mind that children are relatively easy to insure obviously because they don't get the kind of health problems that older folks get. But it's a good thing.
The other thing that he has done that comes to mind for me is [he] has made a major effort to protect farmland in the state, open space and farmland. Those are the two things that come to mind most readily.
QUESTION: How about the downside?
POLLINA: For me there are more things that come to mind readily, maybe in no particular order. Vermont has the most expensive state colleges in the country and we provide less support to our colleges than any other state does. So in other words in terms of the state providing support in terms of percentage of the colleges' budgets and whatnot Vermont ranks, I'm fairly certain we still rank 50th; in some analyses we rank 49th but we're the worst... The fact is that over the last decade we have consciously underfunded or refused to fund our state colleges adequately. I mean there's no other way to look at it. At one point the governor said well our state colleges they lost out during the recession or something like that. But the fact is we have not provided them adequate funding for a number of years and that's a serious problem for a lot of Vermonters who find themselves unable to afford state colleges. As a comparison to that Vermont has over the last ten years, which is Dean's time in office, in Vermont we increased our investment in our prisons, our state prisons by 150 percent; we've increased our investment in our state colleges by about 7 percent. So we have done a lot more to build a put people in prison than we have to invest in and put kids in our colleges. And I think that that is something that Vermonters have become very concerned about in recent years as we sort of educate them about that. The statistics that I gave you come from the chancellor of the Vermont state colleges so it's all accepted and out there that's what we've done, and I think if we could have reversed those investments we would be better off, but we haven't.
Ed. note. Commissioner of Finance and Management Sean Campbell provided the following information:
And, according to 2002 Fiscal Facts, from FY 1998 to FY 2002 General Fund appropriations for Corrections increased by 75.4 percent ($47.2 million to $72.8 million) and those for state colleges increased by 27.3 percent ($15.4 million to $19.6 million). Also, keep in mind that state colleges are but one part of the state's spending on higher education; for example FY 2002 appropriations for UVM were $34.2 million.
In Vermont right now-- This is a different issue [inaudible] clean water standards, which means that they are technically unfit for swimming and fishing and drinking. And in a state that prides itself on it clean environment it's more than a little ironic that most of our waterways fail to meet clean water standards, and what has happened...
QUESTION: Most or many?
POLLINA: Certainly many for sure; it's a thousand miles or more and it includes Lake Champlain. And what we have done over the years in the state is we have underfunded the Agency of Natural Resources to the point where we have made it impossible for them to enforce clean water laws. And we now have a thousand expired or unenforced stormwater permits. Stormwater is runoff from parking lots, etcetera, and [if] you want to build something you get a permit and basically they never do anything to see that the permits are enforced or developed. I think a lot of Vermonters see that as a negative.
QUESTION: Anything else you would point to?
POLLINA: Well I would say we have failed to invest in our agriculture to the point where we right now we still lose about 70 farms a year, dairy farms. We've lost in the last 20 years half of our dairy farms, in the last 10 years we've lost half of our meat processing plants, which sounds rather unsightly but it's very important to our livestock industry. So while we have, as a state, provided significant tax credits and other economic development support to certain industries, we have really ignored agriculture, which is really the foundation of our rural economy. And I think that's also a serious failing, because what we've seen happening is rural communities under a lot of pressure; many people having to leave rural communities to go to work in urban centers--Chittenden County or here in Montpelier, people driving long distances, and that creates problems with sprawl and affordable housing and environmental problems... And another way to express the failure is that we have no agricultural policy, we have no rural economic development policy. So it has skewed our economic development to the point where we have a lot of growth in certain areas of the state, and we've ignored others. So a total lack of support for agriculture.
And one last thing I would mention is that, back to health care for a minute, while we have successfully covered, provided coverage to most of our children, what we have done over the years is we have expanded our Medicaid program to cover more and more Vermonters. Which on the one hand sounds good. Howard Dean will say that we're covering a lot of more people than other states do and there's truth to that. The fact is the program is heavily in a deficit, so we've got an expanded Medicaid program which actually has not cost controls or accountability. So we know now if we don't do something about the way we provide health care to Vermonters we are going to be facing a serious multi-million deficit in our health care programs. And right now there is not plan to address that. We increased the cigarette tax this year to put more money into that, but that's not a sustainable long-term action.
I don't know the numbers but more people in Vermont get their health care through the state or federal programs in Vermont I think that most any other state, so we're actually moving in that direction anyway, but we're kind of backing into it. The criticism of Howard Dean on the right would be, well he's moving us towards a single payer system anyway; it's going to be the state through this Medicaid program. I would argue that in some ways he is backing us into that, but there's simply no plan. There's no plan; there's no cost containment. Providers are not adequately reimbursed and it becomes a sort of a political hot potato for the legislature every year or two.
So I think it would make more sense to say Vermont is a small state; we already provide coverage to a lot of Vermonters, now what we need to do is sit back and design a system that would really make it work. For instance right now as an example there are small businesses in Vermont that choose not to cover their employees and instead encourage those employees to enroll in the state health care program. So that means that those businesses are not taking responsibility, those employers are not taking responsibility, and yet the state budget costs increase because more people are going into the state program. So I think that it would be better to sit down and design a system that would work, instead of, I feel like we're kind of moving blindly toward some kind of what he would call universal coverage.
There were proposals to allow business to buy into the state program. That's continuing to sort of put together a patchwork of sort of subsidy programs or buy-ins without any kind of overall plan. I mean it would be nice, it would be better if we sat down and developed a policy that moved us in the direction of universal coverage in a way that made sure everybody took responsibility for paying, for example, that provided good reimbursements for providers. So again there's a hodgepodge going on. The fact is that the state health care program is in cardiac arrest; it is not adequately funded. This year for example in the legislature what they did is they cut vision care, they cut some dental, but just as importantly or more importantly they increased the co-pays and the deductibles for the low-income and senior prescription drug programs.
QUESTION: More broadly, in terms of leadership style and capability, would he make a good president. Can you envisage him in the Oval Office?
POLLINA: I could envisage him there, I want to say because, I say this slightly tongue in cheek--he has an imperial attitude. I mean he has not always been the easiest person for regular folks to work with. I think that he is a good manager in the sense that he's willing to make tough decisions and stand by them. I think unfortunately is he's not always open, or he's often not open to input from the public and other ways of looking at problems.
So I think that he has some strengths that would suit the Oval Office, but I think he has sometimes an unwillingness or unability to listen to people, which I find to be a negative. I think that citizens should have a strong voice in policy making. I'm not so sure that he's the best example of that kind of leader...
What I would say also just in closing, is to me the idea of having a Vermonter in the White House, I think while Howard Dean is far from my first choice, I think a Vermonter could bring a level of common sense to the White House that the country might appreciate. Bernie Sanders would be my first choice.
Copyright © 2002 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action