BENNINGTON — Running for governor, Peter Galbraith says no more corporate tax breaks, industrial wind development, or corporate-funded campaigns, and yes to a higher minimum wage.
Galbraith, 65, is running as a Democrat. From 2011 to 215 he represented Windham County in the State Senate. In 1993, he was appointed to be the U.S. ambassador to Croatia. He held other diplomatic positions before that and is noted for being one of the people who uncovered former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurdish people in northern Iraq.
"I don't think that industrial wind turbines belong on Vermont's ridgelines, but solar is something we should develop," he said. "It ought to be sited in accordance with Act 250 and community wishes. I don't think large companies should be riding roughshod over local communities that wish something different."
He said that while solar projects do not pose the same problems as wind, they too should be placed where local communities want them. He said recent bills that aim to give locals more control over the locations of these projects do not go nearly far enough.
"The bill that's just come out of the senate is a modest step forward," he said. "I would take it much further. Act 250 is our landmark environmental law, the criteria of Act 250 ought to apply."
In Vermont, energy projects fall under the purview of the Public Service Board, which was created by Section 248 of Act 250. It overrides local zoning bylaws and many residents have come to resent it with the proliferation of large-scale renewable energy projects.
"There's an argument for sometimes overriding the community concerns, but these are not required for the reliability of the grid, these are not reliability projects," he said. "They are, if you will, discretionary."
He feels climate change, along with nuclear war, are the two greatest threats to human civilization, however not all solutions to the former make sense, especially when they only serve corporate interests.
Galbraith said he proposes to raise Vermont's minimum wage to $12.50 immediately, then raise it to $15 per hour in stages. He said he has been proposing such measures since he was a senator.
"You hear from some of the candidates, 'we have a crisis of affordability.' Well, affordability for whom? For people at the top, there's no crisis of affordability if the state taxes go up a little bit, they're going to do fine. For the people whom Vermont is not affordable are those at the bottom of the income spectrum."
He said concerns that companies would flee Vermont because of the higher personnel costs are unfounded and have proven false in places where wages have been raised.
"The notion of job flight is not there," he said. "Also, you have to think of the nature of low-wage jobs. Many of them are not manufacturing. Manufacturing tends to pay pretty decent wages," he said.
It's the service industries, which are not readily exportable, that tend to pay low. Furthermore, Vermont taxpayers have been subsidizing these low-wage practices with public benefit programs. Galbraith said if companies paid workers living wages, there would be less need for aid programs.
Corporate and special interest tax breaks
Galbraith said that he voted against the 2014 budget, "because it included $5 million to facilitate a deal between IBM and GlobalFoundries."
He said it was a $1.5 billion deal, and while he favored it happening, IBM had $11 billion in cash on hand, while GlobalFoundries is owned by Abu Dhabi, one of the richest countries in the world.
"Who seriously thinks a $5 million taxpayer subsidy is going to make a difference? And at the same time that budget cut services for working Vermonters," he said.
He cited other examples of taxpayers helping private companies only to be spurned.
"Over the years, the state has given $10 million to (Keurig Green Mountain Inc.) and the business has grown," he said. "What did they do? They closed down their coffee buying business and moved it to Switzerland so they could escape U.S. taxes, not Vermont taxes, but U.S. federal taxes."
As governor, Galbraith said he would put an end to giving out corporate gifts and tax breaks for special interests.
"My view is, we do not make gifts. If a company needs some help I'm prepared to consider a loan or equity participation," he said.
In 2011, the Legislature passed Act 48 which, in part, set out to create a single-payer healthcare system. Governor Peter Shumlin later announced that part of the act would be abandoned because it was unaffordable.
Galbraith said that so far he is the only politician to put forward a financing plan for a single-payer healthcare system.
"At this stage, I don't think there's the support to go ahead with that, but we can make steps incrementally," he said.
One thing the state could do is put a public option on Vermont Health Connect. It would be subsidized and offer a gold plan for the price of a silver. Other options would be to universally fund primary care, thus lowering the cost of seeing a doctor so people would be more likely to go and catch costly problems early. Another option would be to make Dr. Dynasaur available to everyone regardless of their income.
A 2 percent payroll tax would pay for all of these, he said.
Galbraith said he would like to see corporate donations be taken out of Vermont political campaigns.
"I'm the only candidate who has never accepted money from a corporation or a (political action committee), and I won't," he said.
He said politicians often denounce methods of campaign financing they themselves benefit from. While people blame corporations for influencing politicians, often it's politicians who go looking to be influenced in exchange for campaign donations.
Local interest, marijuana and PFOA.
Galbraith said he supports the legalization of marijuana, since its prohibition has not worked.
A legalization bill should have three goals, he said: keeping it away from minors, ensuring the product is "safe" and free of unknown additives, and providing revenue for the state.
Regarding the PFOA contamination issues reported in North Bennington and other places, Galbraith said the state's reaction has been swift and appropriate, however the issue calls to mind a well-testing requirement taken out of a bill because realtors opposed it. It would have added what he feels is a minimal cost to the digging of a new well, but again, he said, the special interest prevailed over the well-being of citizens.
Galbraith is running against Sue Minter and Matt Dunne in the Democratic primary.