In four years as a senator in Montpelier, I watched how the special interest prevailed over the broader public interest time and time again. The cloud computing industry spent tens of thousands of dollars lobbying the legislature to overturn a Tax Department decision at a cost of $4 million a year in revenue. The Governor and Legislature appropriated $5 million dollars to facilitate a deal between two of the world's richest corporations in the same budget as it cut services for Vermont's neediest families.
The wholesale beverage industry stymied efforts to expand the bottle bill to cover non-carbonated beverages, now the major source of roadside litter. Meanwhile, our state becomes less affordable for working Vermonters. So far, the candidates for Governor have said little about economic justice and inequality.
I am running for Governor to change that. And, here is how.
We must pay Vermonters fairly.
As a senator, I introduced legislation to raise the minimum wage to $12 in 2015. As governor, I will ask the Legislature to enact a $12.50 minimum wage immediately and to move to $15 an hour in increments. A higher minimum wage is the best anti-poverty program that Vermont could enact. It provides a much needed economic stimulus as low-wage workers spend almost all their extra income and they spend it locally.
The Republicans talk about making Vermont more affordable. In reality, there is little state government can do about the major factors affecting the cost of living: the price of food, housing, home heating, cars, gasoline, or the severity of our winters.
Limiting budget increases, as the Republicans have proposed, might save the wealthiest Vermonters from some modest tax increases but these are precisely the people who don't have to worry about affordability. It will do next to nothing for Vermonters working at minimum wage or close to it.
A $15 minimum wage, as I propose, will make Vermont more affordable to the very people who struggle the most. A higher minimum wage is also good for wealthier Vermonters. Right now taxpayers subsidize the labor costs of low wage employers (including some of America's wealthiest corporations) through the Earned Income Tax Credit and other programs. Someone who works 40 hours a week ought not to need public assistance.
Vermont needs a tax system that is fair. Our tax code is riddled with special interest tax breaks and deductions that overwhelmingly benefit the well off. But, every tax break for a special interest is a tax increase on everyone else and this has to stop.
As a senator, I voted against every special interest tax break. As governor, I will seek their repeal.
With a higher minimum wage and a tax code that makes sure that the well off pay their fair share, we can actually do something about inequality in Vermont.
Vermont needs a reality based economic development strategy. A strategy based on taxpayer gifts to the world's largest corporations is no strategy at all. It is corporate welfare and a squandering of public monies. Competing with other states in how many tax dollars we give companies to move to Vermont, or stay in Vermont, is a sucker's game that we cannot win.
Ninety-eighty percent of our new jobs are home grown. People open businesses in Vermont because it is a great place to live.
We have some of the country's best schools, we have a low crime rate, we are one of the healthiest states, and we protect the environment. This is, as economists say, our comparative advantage. We should focus our scarce resources on maintaining quality public services and not on multi-million dollar gifts to companies that move jobs to Switzerland in order to escape U.S. taxes.
I introduced the only bill ever put before the Legislature to pay for universal publicly financed health care. We can still make incremental progress toward this goal by having a subsidized public option on the Vermont Health Connect Exchange.
Finally, we need to get special interest money out of Vermont politics. Vermont politicians love to denounce the role of corporations in politics but when it comes to their own campaigns, there is always the outstretched hand. I have never accepted corporate or PAC money and will not.
And, if I am elected governor, I will ask the Legislature to conform Vermont law to a federal law that has outlawed corporate contributions to federal candidates since 1907.
Elections are about choices. My candidacy gives voters the choice to support a higher minimum wage, to eliminate special interest tax breaks and corporate subsidies, toexpand publicly funded health care, to ban corporate campaign contributions and to protect our environment.
Peter W. Galbraith, a former Senator from Windham County, is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor.