And now, a moment of appreciation for Peter Galbraith

Anyone who’s read this blog for more than ten seconds already knows how I feel about Peter Galbraith. The Most Hated Man in the Senate.  Happy to obstruct legislation for obscure points of principle detectable only to himself. Narcissistic. Oil baron of questionable provenance. Leaves a trail of enemies wherever he goes. Questionable temperament for the state’s highest office.

I’m not voting for the guy, but he did a couple of things this week I truly appreciate.

First, he unveiled the most progressive higher-education plan of any of the three Democratic contenders. And second, he made a practical, hard-headed, economic argument for a social safety net initiative — which is something Democrats almost never do.

It’s a shame, because there are solid, evidence-based arguments to be made. I mean, appeals to fairness and helping the unfortunate are fine, but they’re not enough.

But first, back to the college issue, which is one of the most crucial in terms of helping people achieve success AND boosting the economy. After all, employer after employer complains about the lack of trained workers. Getting more high-school grads into college is a sound investment in our own future.

Galbraith’s plan, unveiled Tuesday, would cover the cost of a college education for Vermont students at state colleges and universities, and offer reduced tuition for some UVM students.

Where does the money come from? .

The total cost of providing free higher education is estimated to be $29 million, Galbraith said. The program would be paid for by eliminating tax breaks and raising the minimum wage, a key plank in Galbraith’s economic agenda.

And how, you might ask, does raising the minimum wage reduce the cost of government? I really like this:

Galbraith said raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour will save Vermont up to $18 million a year because of reductions in Earned Income Tax Credits paid out.

The dirty truth is that government subsidizes low-wage jobs. (CBS News: Low-wage jobs cost taxpayers $153 billion a year.) Mandating a living wage would greatly reduce the cost of government, freeing up funds for actual investments in our economy (or even tax cuts) instead of spending money just to keep the treadmill moving.

Since all three of the Democratic candidates for governor are grabbing for the Bernie mantle, I decided to rank their higher-education plans on a scale of one to five Bernies. (Thanks to VPR’s Bob Kinzel for putting together a nice summary of the three proposals.)

Galbraith gets four and a half Bernies. It’s about as far as a state program can go. The funding mechanism seems sound; the tax loopholes in his crosshairs are of questionable impact, although closing them would require a lot of political trench warfare. I see that as a weakness in Galbraith; he’s more likely to grandstand than persuade.

Minter gets three Bernies. Her plan is much less costly than Galbraith’s and doesn’t go nearly as far. But it does accomplish the most important thing — provide free tuition for at least two years at Vermont Technical College or the Community College of Vermont. The most pressing need, both in terms of economic justice AND economic growth, is giving technical skills to young people who aren’t going to get four-year degrees.

Her plan is also more politically feasible than Galbraith’s, for those interested in practicality.

The most eager claimant to Berniedom, Matt Dunne, gets only two Bernies for his plan. He would provide free tuition at UVM or any of the state colleges for students who agree to perform two years of public service in the military, AmeriCorps, or Peace Corps. That’s a substantial caveat you don’t get from Galbraith or Minter. Also, there’s this:

Dunne isn’t sure exactly how much his plan will cost and he doesn’t have a specific revenue source to pay for it.

Not good, especially for those interested in practicality. I mean, these plans never go straight from the drawing board into law without substantial rewrites, but I prefer proposals that include a funding mechanism that can pass political muster.

Bear in mind, this is only one issue — although to me, it’s one of the most important issues, both in terms of creating opportunity and growing jobs. Dunne scores better on other issues. But on higher education, he’s got some catching up to do.


7 thoughts on “And now, a moment of appreciation for Peter Galbraith

  1. David Ellenbogen

    How did Galbraith get the figure $29 million? Wouldn’t that figure have to rise (like double, triple, and quadruple) each of the three years that followed the introduction of the plan. That is assuming students stay at college for four years.

  2. Thump McDougal

    Galbraith is by far the best of the three Democratic candidates.

    Perhaps you will overcome your resentments and acknowledge it.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      “Resentments” nothing. I saw more than enough of Galbraith in action to cement my reasoned, and widely shared, conclusion that he’s too self-involved to be a good governor.

  3. newzjunqie

    Yes, the man has great ideas, often somewhat impressed by initial offerings.

    Buuut — there’s more to running government & he fails miserably on other skills. Plus personally opposed to electing leaders who have personality disorders b/c they come with a bunch of additional problems & cost more — look at Campbell.

    Shummy in actuality got very little done in all the time he has been at the helm partly b/c of this. And if there were not a D/P vetoproof but a two-party functional governing structure legislature would also have gotten much more done also.

    Problem as I see it is will state/federal government take these savings & piss them into the wind like every other new revenue source or will it be targeted to benefit the taxpayer. Less than optomistic.

  4. Philip Beliveau

    You had spoiled me for Galbraith with your previous postings but his latest proposals are refreshingly free of caution. Hopefully Dunne and Minter are forced to let loose a little!

  5. Walter Carpenter

    “The dirty truth is that government subsidizes low-wage jobs. (CBS News: Low-wage jobs cost taxpayers $153 billion a year.) ”

    This should be trumpeted all over Vermont again and again so that people finally understand it. I am not sure if the CBS News story includes prison costs, and it is all to profitably benefit a few at the top.

  6. ApacheTrout

    The $15 minimum wage will have real implications on the many very small business owners here in Vermont. I own a small business, with two seasonal full time (April 1 through October 31 @ $13/hr) and three part-time (20 hrs/week, June 1 through August 31 @ $9.60 hr) employees. The full time employees are adults, while the part-time employees are high school students.

    The minimum wage increase would cost my business an additional $7,720. Where does that extra money come from? There are four potential answers: 1) raise prices and pass on the increase to my customers; 2) increase sales; 3) reduce expenses; or 4) from my own paycheck. My average annual income over the last five years fluctuates from $40k to $50k. Can you see how this would be a problem for me if I’m unable to pass on the price increase to my customers (i.e. raise prices above the competition, which is mainly out-of-state), increase sales, or reduce expenses?

    I’m all for paying people a living wage, especially adults with housing needs. But $15 an hour for a high-school student with no rent, mortgage, or car payments is excessive. Additionally, it creates wage pressure on my full-time adult employees, who can now rightly ask why they are getting paid equally with no-experience high school age employees who work part time. Can you see why this is a problem?

    In response to my dilemma, legislators will often carve out exemptions, say for businesses with less than 5 full time employees, for seasonal employees, for agricultural businesses with payrolls below a threshold, for example. But how would I attract workers if my hourly rates are below the minimum offered by a grocery store or a box-store?

    Minimum wage and living wages are a complex societal problem. Minimum wage jobs should be reserved for entry level positions where no experience is required and the opportunity for promotions exist. The economy is structured, however, with too many adults working minimum wage jobs with little opportunity for advancement. The minimum wage economy at giant corporations like Walmart is indeed a form of corporate welfare. But my modest income is decreased by $7,720, isn’t that going to increase the likelihood that I’ll need some subsidies for things like health insurance? That seems to be lousy way of going about fixing a societal problem.


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