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.