Home News and Features Politics An Interview with Peter Galbraith, Candidate for Vermont Governor

An Interview with Peter Galbraith, Candidate for Vermont Governor

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Gubernatorial candidate Peter Galbraith, right, talks to 18-year-old Elijah Coolidge about the importance of voting and of his free college education plan July 29 in Montpelier.
Gubernatorial candidate Peter Galbraith, right, talks to 18-year-old Elijah Coolidge about the importance of voting and of his free college education plan July 29 in Montpelier.

by Nat Frothingham

On March 22, The Bridge ran a two-page spread with profiles of the then-announced four candidates for Vermont governor, two Democrats and two Republicans. Seeking their party’s nomination in the Vermont Primary Election on August 9 were Democrats Sue Minter from Waterbury and Matt Dunne from Hartland. Opposing each other for the Republican nomination for governor were Bruce Lisman and Phil Scott.

On March 22, five days after our spread was published, Peter Galbraith, a Democrat from Townshend announced his candidacy for governor. Inasmuch as Galbraith was not included in our March 22 spread, The Bridge invited him to meet with us.

Introduction

Peter Galbraith is a lifelong Vermonter whose family has deep roots in Vermont. From 2010 to 2014, Galbraith represented Windham County in the Vermont Senate.

In an interview with The Bridge, Galbraith spoke about his career in public life and he went on to explain his thinking on a number of current Vermont political issues.

From 1979 to 1993, he served on the staff of the United States’ Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In 1993, he was appointed by President Clinton as the first United States Ambassador to Croatia. In 1995, as part of that assignment, he negotiated and signed the peace agreement that ended the war in Croatia. In that same year, he was part of a team that negotiated the wider Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian War. He has travelled widely both as a citizen and diplomat across the Middle East and in other parts of the world.

In 2014, after two terms in the Vermont Senate, he decided not to seek reelection. As reported in a June 2014 article in the Brattleboro Reformer, Galbraith said he had decided not to seek reelection because he wanted to focus his attention as part of an informal effort to find a political solution to Syria’s civil war.

Budget and the Economy

“Raising the minimum wage” is a political action that Galbraith called “the centerpiece” of his economic proposals for Vermont.

The Vermont minimum wage today is $9.60 an hour. Galbraith wants that minimum wage to be increased immediately to $12.50 an hour. “I will go immediately to $12.50,” he said. “Then to $15 an hour by 2021.”

Galbraith believes that raising Vermont’s minimum wage would amount to “the most effective anti-poverty program” the state could adopt. As Galbraith ticked off the several positive impacts from hiking the minimum wage, this action sounded very much like a stimulus program.

Talking specifically about low-income Vermonters who are finding it hard to pay their bills, he said, “(Raising the minimum wage) makes Vermont more affordable for those who struggle the most …” Hiking the minimum wage “saves upwards of $18 million.”

As Galbraith sees it, here are how the savings are realized. “You’re no longer paying the earned income tax credit.” You’re not paying that tax credit because when people make more money they don’t qualify for it. And when low-income people have more money in their pockets, they won’t be needing state help with fuel assistance, food stamps or “Reach-Up” benefits. Then as they spend more money locally, the state will see greater sales tax revenues.

In a more general comment about state budget issues, Galbraith talked about promoting Vermont’s comparative advantage when compared to other states. In general, he said, the comparative advantage can be summed up by the state’s quality of life — as measured by protecting our environment, valuing our communities and high-performing schools and taking note of Vermont’s designation as the nation’s second-healthiest state.

“I want to fund essential public services,” he said. He promised to seek efficiencies in state government programs. But he insisted his commitment to funding essential public services was firm and said about those essential services, “If necessary I will raise taxes.”

Education

Galbraith’s most adventurous educational proposal involves two actions. First, a plan to eliminate $28.5 million in what Galbraith calls “special interest tax breaks.” Then second, a plan to take that $28.5 million and make it possible for Vermont students to attend all five state colleges tuition-free for all four years.

Galbraith wants to eliminate a sales tax break that benefits people who own private planes. “If you’re a private jet repair place, you don’t have to pay sales tax,” he explained. He would also eliminate a tax break that benefits anyone selling something from what’s called “the cloud” — an online sales location with no actual Vermont location or address. Galbraith said that lobbyists had been able to convince the Legislature to grant tax breaks to “the cloud” by arguing that Vermont could become a tech hub. But said Galbraith, these same lobbyists are making the same claims to legislators across the country. And not every state is going to become a tech hub, he said.

Galbraith wasn’t serving in the Vermont Senate when Act 46 (the school consolidation bill) became law. He wouldn’t have voted for it, he said. What’s more, he opposes allowing the Secretary of Education to be able to order consolidation on her own. “If they want to keep their own schools open, then they should,” he said. He opposed “forced consolidation.”

Health Care

Galbraith favors an immediate start to government-funded, universal healthcare in Vermont. He said that he was the “only elected official” to offer legislation to pay for Act 48 (the proposal for single-payer health care in Vermont.)

“In Vermont, let’s start with government-provided primary care for everyone.” He defined primary care as the basics, including pediatric, gynecological and substance abuse. He wants to eliminate the existing billing system which he said will cut waste and increase doctor time with patients. When patients get seen by a doctor right away, health outcomes improve and money is saved, he argued.

Galbraith has a sharp critique of the state’s two big health providers (Dartmouth and UVM) and its single insurance company, Blue Cross/Blue Shield. He said these health care providers are charging two or three times what an independent doctor would charge for a procedure. Then the insurance company gets charged less than a competing health insurance company would be charged. As Galbraith explained what’s currently in place, it had all the marks of a sweetheart deal, enriching both the big health providers and Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

“I want the UVM Network and the independents to be paid the same for the same procedures. I want all insurers to be paid the same amount by the hospitals in Vermont.”

Recreational Marijuana

“I’m in favor of legalizing marijuana,” Galbraith said. But he is insisting on three criteria being met. First, keep it out of the hands of minors. Second, guarantee the purity and consistency of the product. Third, make sure that the state gets tax revenue from it. “Regulate it in the same way that alcohol is regulated. Private producers (growers) could sell into it.”

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