THE ANTI-SHUMLIN: Dan Feliciano, of Essex, says Vermont needs to dump single-payer, slash spending and cut taxes to fix the state’s economic malaise.
By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog
Of all the candidates seeking to become governor of Vermont, Libertarian Dan Feliciano arguably represents the starkest contrast to the policies of Gov. Peter Shumlin.
An efficiency expert with a background in health care, information technology and government, Feliciano has pledged to end single-payer health care, cut government spending by 10 percent, slash taxes and return control of schools to local communities.
Gregarious and well-informed on issues, the Essex resident never sounds cantankerous or abrasive, even when speaking out against Shumlin’s annual budget increases, single-payer experiments and high taxes.
Whatever the odds of a Libertarian pulling out a win in Tuesday’s election, Feliciano, a U.S. Navy veteran, a husband and a father of three children — including one with autism — has earned the respect of Vermonters everywhere.
In this interview with Vermont Watchdog, Feliciano pulls no punches in discussing Shumlin’s record, and he warns of dire economic consequences if Vermont adopts a single-payer health care system.
Vermont Watchdog: What a will single-payer health care system mean for Vermonters?
Feliciano: This single-payer health care system will result in the largest tax increase in Vermont history. I’m predicting it’s going to be a $3 billion tax increase. The only way they’re going to be able to pay for that health care system is by scooping in all the Medicare dollars and having an additional tax on income of up to 15 percent. So, people are really fed up.
VW: What other reasons do you have for opposing single payer?
F: It would kill business development and job creation. If businesses are forced to buy insurance for their employees when they previously didn’t, that’s going to add to their operating expense, which in turn would reduce their profits. And if profits are reduced, they may have to cut back on employees or take a loss. You’re adding a cost to businesses that they don’t have today.
Moreover, the tax that’s going to be required penalizes the married, because everybody that earns a paycheck will have to buy into the plan. Right now, for a married couple, one spouse can work and buy the insurance plan for them. In this case, everybody who’s working has to buy and pay into the system. It’s like paying twice for your health care.
VW: Do you think you could win the support of a Legislature that voted to enact single-payer?
F: I’ve been talking to a lot of legislators, and they are worried sick about the single-payer health care system and the cost. Supposedly, they got a little sniff of what the costs are going to be, and it was enough to gag them. As I’ve been talking to them, they know we have to cut spending and no one is very serious about it and they’re all in jeopardy. I said to them, “Look, have everyone vote for me, and you can say you want single-payer health care but that Feliciano whacked it — and you’re off the hook. And I’ll gladly take the heat.”
VW: Perhaps more than any other candidate, you emphasize the need for spending cuts. Why is that?
F: We have to cut spending immediately. Our state budget has been increasing on average about 5.5 percent year over year. That’s astronomical. How many of your readers have gotten a 5.5 percent raise year over year for the last four years?
The topic of cutting spending and cutting property taxes and the income tax has gotten so much traction. And now Shumlin, with the $100 million budget deficit that we’re facing, has ordered state officials to start developing budget plans to reduce by 5 percent. The interesting thing about that is, just two months ago, when I was talking about cutting spending by 5 to 10 percent, everybody said it was dangerous and couldn’t be done. Now it’s something that’s become very vogue.
VW: How would you go about making cuts that don’t hurt people?
F: My first day in office, I would get everyone together, and I would have them bring their organization charts, their mission statements and their budgets, and we would go line by line, understanding what’s going on there, and identifying cost savings that can occur immediately.
I can cut the state spending by 10 percent. With the budget gap that’s in front of us, Shumlin went ahead and asked everyone to reduce their budgets by 5 percent without giving them help or assistance. I have a deep financial and operations background, so I can ensure services aren’t diminished in the sense it would affect our most needy and our children.
EFFICIENCY EXPERT: A continuous improvement manager at Keurig Green Mountain, Feliciano says his experience as an efficiency expert is exactly what Vermont needs to restructure its government and jump start the state’s economy.
VW: What would you do with Vermont Health Connect?
F: Vermont Health Connect, to run it, is expected to cost between $26 million and $36 million a year. I would end Vermont Health Connect and move Vermonters to the federal exchange. People argue that we’d lose subsidies, but there are not that many Vermonters in Vermont Health Connect. So I’d move those people to the federal portal, and whatever subsidies we do lose, I believe they’ll be minimal compared to the $26 million to $36 million. So we’d have a net win right there coming out of the gate.
VW: Both Gov. Shumlin and Republican challenger Scott Milne tend to emphasize growth initiatives over cuts as the solution to Vermont’s sluggish economy. How do your views differ?
F: All the growth initiatives in the world will not save us, and here’s the reason: Because as business incentives are put in place for growth, it’s going to take time for those businesses to become profitable and pay taxes — in some cases multiple years. Moreover, as these growth plans are put in place, 50 percent of businesses fail in the first three or four years. So we’re not going to have those revenues. But all you have to do is cut spending, which happens to be my forte.
VW: A report out this week from the Tax Foundation ranked Vermont as the 46th worst state in the nation for taxes. What should be done about high taxes?
F: The income tax rate is astonishing here. We’re one of the highest tax states in the country. If we’re going to create environment where businesses can grow and people can thrive, we need to cut spending and cut taxes.
VW: Property taxes are skyrocketing to support ever-increasing education spending. Republican Scott Milne has proposed a cap on property taxes. Would you support capping the property tax?
F: By state law, the money required for the school budget would have to come from another tax. So, capping property taxes would create a revenue shortfall, which would result in a tax elsewhere.
VW: Then, how would you alleviate the property tax burden, which results from rising education costs?
F: We need to return control of finances and costs back to the local communities and let them be fully accountable for the dollars they spend in their schools. Currently in Vermont, communities vote on their school budgets, and then the monies they vote on are collected in Montpelier. And Montpelier decides how to equally distribute the dollars that are collected so that the cost per pupil averages out. So, the communities aren’t really in control of their spending. It’s all about making schools accountable for their actual expenditures. Once they are accountable for the actual dollar spend that they have, it will encourage them to be more thrifty.
Also, as you start looking at the property tax, we know 70 percent of people in Vermont don’t pay property taxes — they’re on income sensitivity. So we need to think about what that model is and why people are not paying property taxes, thus leaving the property tax up to 30 percent of the people.
VW: Do you think Vermonters are ready for libertarian solutions to problems?
F: I’ll tell you, I think I’m on the leading edge of a major transformation here in Vermont. The younger generation realizes they’re going to be saddled with debt, and they’re more libertarian, more socially conservative and extremely fiscally conservative.
Contact Bruce Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org