RICHMOND, Vt. — Politicians often are criticized for telling people what they want to hear rather than being fully open with them, and Governor Peter Shumlin said he does not want to fall into that trap.
‘‘I think you’re better off telling people the truth than telling them what they want to hear,’’ the Democratic governor said in an interview.
It may be easier for him to do that when polls show 60 percent support for the incumbent, with Republican challenger Randy Brock in the high 20s. Those are the results of polls conducted in May and August by the Castleton Polling Institute at Castleton State College.
Shumlin’s willingness to tell what he sees as the truth was on display during a recent appearance before the Vermont Trails and Greenways Council, where he repeatedly responded coolly to suggestions for more funding and state support for Vermont’s networks of hiking trails.
A member of the crowd at the event told the governor that trail programs get up to three-quarters of 1 percent of gasoline tax revenues, up to a cap of $370,000 per year. If the $370,000 cap were lifted, funding could be boosted by $120,000.
Shumlin rejected the idea out of hand. Gas tax revenues are declining in states like Vermont that levy the tax on a per-gallon basis, because high fuel prices have people driving less, Shumlin said. Meanwhile, the state’s roads and bridges, which are maintained with gas tax revenues, need lots of work.
‘‘I would recommend that you don’t try the gas tax, for the simple reason that the gas tax is underperforming anyway,’’ the governor said.
Someone else in the group suggested expanding the state’s current use program, which now gives property tax breaks for farm and forest land parcels of 27 acres or more, to include smaller parcels when land owners allow recreation trails to be built across them.
Shumlin issued words of caution on that idea, too, noting that tax breaks for some land owners mean higher taxes for others.
‘‘Every time you put a piece of land in the current use program, truthfully your neighbors are picking up the bill,’’ he said. ‘‘And if you get down to really small pieces [of land] you’ve got to ask the question: Who’s left paying for education in Vermont? And I think you’ve got to be a little careful about that.’’
The 56-year-old Shumlin grew up in Putney, where his parents started a company that organizes overseas tours and studies for US students. After he graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Shumlin and his brother took over Putney Student Travel when their parents retired, and have grown the company to where it now partners with National Geographic in offering youth travel programs. Shumlin also has extensive real estate holdings. In 2010, he disclosed sole or part ownership of 18 properties — mainly rental properties in Putney and Brattleboro — six vehicles and a boat, and a personal net worth of more than $10 million.
Shumlin, who is estranged from his wife and has two daughters in their early 20s, says he still has a connection to those who struggle in life, noting he overcame childhood dyslexia. ‘‘I learn differently,’’ he has said on numerous occasions.
He frequently rebuffs Brock’s criticisms that Vermont has an unfriendly business climate by citing his own successes, accusing Brock of running for ‘‘pessimist in chief.’’
Shumlin is relentlessly upbeat. He routinely tells his audiences that they are the best in the nation at whatever they do.