Ripton’s Wagner to highlight tax reform in second senate run

RIPTON — Robert Wagner, an independent candidate from Ripton, likens his second run for one of Addison County and Huntington’s two state Senate seats to going for a job interview.
Only in this case, he must be evaluated by around 36,000 “bosses” who will determine this November whether to hire him for a two-year stint in Montpelier.
He might not make it to every household in Addison County, but Wagner, 48, vowed to do his best.
“I will visit as many doors as possible,” Wagner said during an interview on Tuesday. “I will plan the best traveling salesman route as possible.”
Wagner got his first taste of county politics two years ago, in his first state Senate bid. That race included Democrats (and eventual winners) Claire Ayer of Addison and Harold Giard of Bridport and Republicans Mark Young and Andrea Ochs of Orwell. Wagner finished last in the five-person field, with 1,127 tallies, but was nonetheless buoyed by the number of votes he garnered as a first-time candidate.
“I was astounded,” he said of his vote tally. “I was a complete unknown, with no money.”
The race for state Senate is less crowded this year — no Republican candidates have stepped forward — but figures to be no easier. Ayer, the county’s senior senator and consistent top vote-getter, is again on the ballot, as is former Rep. Christopher Bray, D-New Haven. Bray served four years in the House and in 2010 ran (unsuccessfully) for lieutenant governor.
“It is quite uphill,” he acknowledged of his prospects of winning, but he vowed to give it his best shot.
His list of issues is a familiar one — creating more jobs and getting government finances in order — but Wagner’s proposed solutions are likely to be quite different than those espoused by his opponents in the race.
In an effort to lessen the financial burden on Vermonters, Wagner is proposing to eliminate the personal income tax and instead tax natural resource extraction as well as unearned income from land speculation.
Wagner noted Alaska levies taxes on extraction of natural resources — oil, in particular — a system he said has made that state more attractive to prospective residents and businesses (except for large, multi-national corporations who process/broker natural resources).
“Our current tax system is in bad need of reform,” Wagner, 48, said. “We are giving it away to large corporations.”
Among additional tax reforms, Wagner would propose doing away with taxes on land improvements and all taxes against earned income — including capital investment, wages, improvements, and “anything that is the product of human ingenuity and sweat.” With this new tax structure in place, Wagner believes federal and state governments would be forced to downsize and sell off assets at market price (especially land) to citizens who would put it into production.
“There is an old adage in economics: ‘You pay for what you take, not for what you make,’” Wagner, a senior principal consultant for the Oracle Corporation, said.
He believes his proposed new tax structure would produce enough revenue to pay for other programs, such as health care. Wagner said he supports Vermont’s ongoing effort to establish a single-payer health care program, a system he believes is “10 times better” than the federal Affordable Care Act.
If elected, Wagner said he would call on the General Assembly to make a more forceful push to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon. He acknowledged that the state Senate has voted not to re-license the plant, but noted the House has not taken such a step.
The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already granted Vermont Yankee the 20-year extension it had been seeking. The state is contesting the plant’s re-licensing in federal court on an appeal.
Wagner argued that the state already has the right to close Vermont Yankee under the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
Being an independent, Wagner said, means he would not be beholden to the major parties and directives passed on by their leaders.
“I am not interested in being told what to do by a party whip,” Wagner said. “I would stay out of the caucusing process.”
He hopes his message of independence resonates with voters.
“I am a strong proponent of home rule,” Wagner said, “and Montpelier has been acquiring powers from towns since the early 1960s. We have to return powers to the towns, where they belong.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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