Candidates for governor face off
By Stanley Blow III
The three Democratic candidates for governor tackled all the major issues at a debate Monday night, except one big one — guns.
When Matt Dunne, Peter Galbraith and Sue Minter took the stage at Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, Jon Ciappa of Waterbury Center hoped they would touch on the hot-button issue of gun control, but they didn’t.
The question wasn’t in the cards — the index cards on which audience members wrote their questions for the candidates.
PHOTO BY GORDON MILLER
Waiting for the call to start Monday’s debate at Crossett Brook Middle School are the three
Democratic candidates for governor: Peter Galbraith, at left, Sue Minter and Matt Dunne.
Ciappa and Brenda Henderson, a voter from Warren, were disappointed.
Gun control jumped to the forefront of public debate on June 12, when Omar Mateen opened fire in a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 and wounding 53.
Minter did say she favors stricter, “common sense” gun laws, such as universal background checks for gun owners, but the discussion went no deeper than that.
Ciappa said he was glad the candidates spoke about health care and education, which are high priorities for him.
For Henderson, taxes, health and the economy topped her list.
On economy and taxes, the candidates were asked how they would solve the state government’s perennial budget gap with finite money and facing significant challenges.
Galbraith responded with a question — why would anybody want to do business in Vermont? The short answer: Because it’s a great place to live. It’s not because of low taxes — New Hampshire has that edge — and it’s not because of high wages.
Vermont has a high quality of life and cares about natural beauty and the environment, as well as public services, Galbraith said.
“These things cost money,” he said. “We cannot have a discussion about maintaining quality of life in Vermont and then ignore the question of how we raise the money to do it.”
Galbraith then hinted at a plan he unveiled the next day: He wants to eliminate more than $45 million in tax breaks that benefit the wealthy and use that money to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and offer free tuition to Vermont’s state colleges for in-state students.
Minter focused on her work developing Invest Vermont and Innovate Vermont. InvestVT focuses on roads, bridges and other infrastructure that need fixing throughout the state, and recognizing that government projects can help stimulate the private economy.
InnovateVT is about stimulating Vermont’s 21st-century economy through technology and green businesses, helping to breathe new life into the state’s economy.
As for the budget, Minter said that, while she was the state transportation secretary, she dealt with $600 million worth of questions every year.
“I’ve made many, many difficult decisions every year about what we do and how we prioritize,” she said. “It is about prioritization, and it’s about how we support our workforce.”
Minter said the Agency of Transportation actually saved money by hiring more state employees.
“We’ve proven that by looking at the cost of hiring contractors versus employees,” she said.
Minter also said VTrans became more efficient under her watch, with a sharp reduction in how long it takes to build or repair bridges, for instance.
Dunne poked fun at Galbraith’s ideas: “Peter has done incredible work on behalf of the state as part of his campaign by going through the work that he’s done. He would make an excellent in-house auditor for the next governor.”
Dunne said the state has been struggling year in and out to balance its budget.
“We’ve raised taxes; we’ve cut programs for the most vulnerable and cut frontline workers, and yet next year come back to the same thing,” Dunne said. “It’s simply not sustainable.”
Rethinking the tax code would help, he said, but health-care costs are “eating us alive.”
Every day, the cost of health care climbs about $60,000, Dunne said. Reducing those increases will take some trust, and “part of that is going to be fixing the damn website,” he said, referring to the chronically troubled Vermont Health Connect portal to the state’s health insurance exchange. “We have already spent over $200 million on a failed website.”
Dunne, a former Google executive, said his background in information technology would help fix that.
Minter, Galbraith and Dunne are competing for the Democratic Party nomination in the primary election Aug. 9. The winner will face off against one of the Republican candidates, Phil Scott or Bruce Lisman, in the general election Nov. 8