Carbon Tax Incompetence

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Some Vermont legislators (and November hopefuls) seek to impose a “carbon tax” on gasoline, diesel, propane and home heating fuel, because they believe it would reduce the state’s carbon emissions. I do not oppose the concept of a carbon tax, which links use of fossil fuels to their pollution “cost.” It is good conservation to be frugal, and we are polluting our planet even if we are not warming it. It is estimated that we humans discard one million plastic bottles each minute -- is it not equitable that pollution costs be borne by those who pollute? This is the idea behind, for instance, the can disposal fee charged for the purchase of a gallon of house paint.

But the carbon tax proposals in Montpelier are disastrous. Gubernatorial candidate Christine Halquist recently expressed openness to a carbon tax, and David Zuckerman has long signaled his interest in such a tax if the state could return money to low income Vermonters. It has been proposed that Vermonters would pay a tax at the pump or other purchase; then receive a rebate through reduced (presumably wind-powered) electricity rates. For the reasons I here recount, this proposed new tax would be a complete failure.

Zuckerman et al seek to package the carbon tax with the smooth wrapper of redistribution: “we’re not taxing you, we’re transferring funds to a good cause.” It’s one thing when that transfer is of money we grant voluntarily (like lottery funds that supposedly support schools), or that arises from an outside source (like applying tobacco settlement proceeds to opioid addiction treatment). But to interpose itself not just between citizens’ commercial transactions but their moral consequences is a very dodgy business for government. What’s next, taxing sugary foods to subsidize organic gluten-free bread? Levying a water tax on private wells to fund more sanitation for urban areas?

I am a perfect example of why Vermont’s carbon tax would be inequitable. I live off-grid. I would not receive subsidized electricity to compensate for the money I pay for gasoline. I am low income, and would not receive tax credits. Money would be taken from me and not returned. Further, people who are currently buying grid power would be discouraged by cheaper rates from purchasing solar power; existing solar power purchasers would be disadvantaged by having grid power subsidized. But the government would hire numerous new employees (with retirement and health benefits, and steady guaranteed wage increases), to drive government-purchased cars and sit in government-heated housing with government computers to impose novel record-keeping requirements on hundreds of businesses on both ends of the redistribution of our money.

After our legislators siphoned off our money to expand state power and salaries, then unevenly redistributed what remained, would the carbon tax reduce our use of carbon? Likely not. California declared a ban on residential water use, and people increased their demand. Won’t people be inclined to use more electricity if it’s subsidized, or if they perceive that in doing so they are “getting their money back”? And how much of that grid electricity is green? How “green” is that industrial wind power? -- It is noteworthy that David Blittersdorf is a major donor to the Democratic Party, and contributed funds for a supposedly independent study of why a carbon tax is good for Vermont (by Energy Independent Vermont (EIV): See “Yes, the Plan is to Pass a Carbon Tax in 2017,” Rob Roper, Ethan Allen Institute, October 2017).

If there is to be a carbon tax it must be at the federal level (which is being considered); not state-by-state. Our Legislature seems focused on being trendy -- being “the first” to do things. It squandered millions on a failed state single payer healthcare plan. Labeling GMOs was well-intentioned but was usurped by federal law, just as any Vermont carbon tax will be if the federal government imposes a federal carbon tax system.

Vermont’s culture has always been about rural individualism. The Democratic Legislature has restricted our gun rights, taken over local control of our schools, and disrupted our economy with the single payer healthcare and EB-5 debacles. It has passed an unenforceable law that prohibits car idling (23 V.S.A. 1110: a $10 fine); an unimportant law that changes signs on public restrooms for a miniscule minority; and an unimaginable law that pays out-of-staters $10,000 to move to Vermont!

The carbon tax proposed by Zuckerman, Halquist, and other liberal dreamers will enhance government control, increase taxes, create inequities, burden the poor -- and likely not shift our carbon footprint. However well intentioned, that is a road down which we best not tread.

Originally published with The Newport Daily Express, 10/12/2018