By Rob Roper
The House Energy and Technology Committee had a chance to ask the creators of a Carbon Pricing study some questions this week. One of their findings that is not particularly shocking is that if the tax is “revenue neutral” — meaning that all tax revenues raised are returned (although redistributed) to the taxpayers via alternative tax cuts or rebates — it doesn’t do a whole lot to curb behavior. If the tax costs you an extra $15 to fill up your tank, but then you get a rebate check for $15 dollars, you’re probably not going to drive any less. The report writers conceded that a revenue neutral approach would not have the kind of impact on greenhouse gas emissions supporters of the carbon tax want.
Enter Representative Michael Yantachka, D-Charlotte, who quickly floated the obvious solution: Rather than use the revenue to cut other taxes or provide rebates, gove
rnment should just keep the money and spend it!
Yup, that didn’t take long.
In Yanchachta’s words, “With the amount of rebate they [Vermonters] can get on their electric bill, they’re not going to be investing any of that into anything that will help them reduce their greenhouse gas emissions like weatherization or buying an electric vehicle…. If we put a 15 cent per gallon price on carbon, we can take that money and help people do good things.” Translation: You may have earned that money, but we know how to spend it better than you.
Yanchachta also implied that a 15 cent a gallon tax on gas and home heating fuel wouldn’t be a big deal, even for low income Vermonters, because these prices can and sometimes do fluctuate more than that organically. Yes, they do. And when those prices fluctuate up, it hurts. A fifty cent spike in gas prices will hurt a lot more when it’s 65 cents because of an additional 15 cent tax. Seriously, how hard is this to understand?
Nevertheless, the sentiment was echoed later in the Cedar Creek Room where a coalition of environmental activists offered up their “Climate Action Plan for 2019.” This fourteen-page pamphlet is chock full of ways to spend revenue from a new carbon tax, including a doubling of Vermont’s weatherization program, creating subsidies for buyers of electric vehicles, and further subsidizing renewable energy.
If anyone ever bought the notion that a Vermont carbon tax would be “revenue neutral,” or, if passed as such, would stay that way for very long, this week’s Statehouse activities should put that fantasy to bed for good.