Peter W. Galbraith announces his intention to run for Vermont governor
BRATTLEBORO >> If one local man has his way, Vermont will have a second governor in a row from Windham County.
Peter W. Galbraith, the former state senator from Townshend who served as ambassador to Croatia, as the United Nations' deputy special representative for Afghanistan, and as an adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, told the Reformer on Tuesday morning that he is running for the Democratic nomination to succeed Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has roots in Westminster and Putney.
Galbraith, a Democrat, said his campaign is about economic justice and fairness.
"We have a system in Vermont that basically favors the special interests over the public interest and it is rigged against working and middle-class Vermonters. That needs to change," he said.
His platform has a number of points, all of them related to making life easier for those who work for a living.
"I favor going immediately to a $12.50 minimum wage, with increments up to $15 an hour," he said. "Raising the minimum wage is the best anti-poverty program and economic stimulus you can have. Low-wage workers get to spend their extra income and they spend it locally."
Because of the way the current system is weighted, all Vermont taxpayers subsidize lower wage workers through benefits and the earned income tax credit, said Galbraith.
"I truly believe that if you work 40 hours a week, you shouldn't need to ask for public assistance."
Galbraith said he has consulted with a number of economists who have assured him that the biggest kick the local economy can get is from raising the minimum wage. But that's not enough, he said.
"We need a fair tax system. Currently, it is loaded with special interest tax breaks. As a senator, I voted against every one of those tax breaks and as governor I would repeal them."
For instance, said Galbraith, the Legislature recently voted to eliminate $4 million in sales taxes on cloud computing.
"The arguments advanced by the lobbyists is the break would make Vermont a technology hub. But they are going around to every state in the country making the same argument."
He also noted that Vermont has a deduction for properties not owned in Vermont, which benefits people who own second homes. "When you give somebody a tax break, everybody else pays for it," said Galbraith.
He is also critical of giving million-dollar subsidies to multimillion-dollar companies such as Global Foundries and IBM. "It's a sucker's game that we can't win," he said.
Galbraith noted that 98 percent of the jobs in the state are homegrown and don't come from outside the state.
"Why would anyone want to open a business here? Because it's a great place to live. We protect the environment, we have good schools and good health care, and we have a sense of community. This is where we should be making our investments, but it's hard to do when we don't have a fair tax code."
Galbraith advocates for cutting property taxes around the state and raising income taxes so that people like him, who is worth millions, pay more based on their income.
"This isn't class war," he said. "It's sticking up for the middle class and the working people."
Galbraith also would like to see the state continue to pursue universal health care, such as Act 48, which he proposed as a senator, but which did not receive enough support for passage. Act 48 proposed an 11 percent tax on employers and a 2 percent tax on employees.
However, said Galbraith, "I'm not re-fighting that fight. I am looking to get to universal health care in an incremental manner."
His new plan calls for subsidies for people to purchase health care plans on the exchange and $180 million in publicly financed primary care, which he says could be financed with a 1.5 percent payroll tax.
"If everyone is getting primary and preventative care, it reduces more expensive care later down the road."
Galbraith is also calling for "a sensible policy on renewables," in which industrial wind has no place in Vermont and solar siting respects a town's plans and a community's wishes.
"Global warming is the most serious long-term threat to the world, but not every proposed solution is a true solution, such as ridge-line wind."
Finally, Galbraith wants to ban corporate campaign contributions in Vermont.
"Corporate campaign contributions help explain why special interests do so well in Vermont," he said.
Galbraith admits that he ruffled some feathers while a senator representing Windham County in the state Legislature.
"I forced votes on things, such as prohibiting corporate campaign contributions, and I asked questions about things, such as $5 million from the Vermont Enterprise Fund for IBM. Montpelier is a little world where the idea is everyone should get along and have a good time; for sure that wasn't me, that's not the way to represent your constituents."
Galbraith said that despite his reputation for making waves, he had good personal relationships with many people in the State House and in the government and that he "got a lot done for Windham County."
"Yes, I guess I was troublesome because I was standing up for people who elected me; but I was effective."
Galbraith may also find that he again will have to answer questions about his involvement with a Norwegian oil company, DNO, and his 5 percent investment in an oil field in the Kurdistan region of Iraq that reaped him millions of dollars in profit.
Though Galbraith was never accused of breaking any laws, many critics accused him of crossing an ethical line.
Galbraith told the Boston Globe in 2009 that there was no conflict of interest between what he advised the Kurdistan Regional Government and his investments because he was a private citizen by then.
"The business interest, including my investment into Kurdistan, was consistent with my political views," he told the Globe. "These were all things that I was promoting, and in fact, have brought considerable benefit to the people of Kurdistan, the Kurdistan oil industry, and also to shareholders."
Galbraith is the son of renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who lived on a farm in Newfane until his death in 2006.
Galbraith will be vying for his party's nomination in a primary with candidates Sue Minter and Matt Dunne. Republican businessman Bruce Lisman and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott are seeking their party's nomination.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.
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