A renewable energy lobbyist in Vermont is calling a $500 million carbon tax a clever “tax reform” idea to grow jobs and the economy.
Vermont Public Interest Research Group, an environmental advocacy group with 40,000 members, wants to jump-start the economy. The group’s method of achieving that, however, requires imposing a massive tax on gasoline, propane, natural gas and home heating fuel.
According to a promotional flier being delivered to Vermonters across the state, VPIRG wants state lawmakers to shift taxes off of income, sales and employment and on to “carbon pollution” – a code phrase for gas and home heating oil distributors.
The proposed excise tax – a $100 per-metric-ton tax on carbon estimated to add 89 cents to a gallon of gasoline, 58 cents to propane and $1.02 to every gallon of home heating fuel – will generate $500 million annually after its phase-in period of 10 years.
To make skyrocketing gasoline costs sound less repulsive, the flier calls the concept “tax reform for a clean economy.” According to the scheme described in the flier, passing a carbon tax will be offset by granting taxpayers an income tax credit that increases every year. Organizations and municipalities will get tax credits for all employees, too, and all Vermonters would see a reduction in the sales tax.
Low income Vermonters can expect monthly supplemental benefits, and some of the tax revenue will be set aside to subsidize energy efficiency projects like weatherization and increased use of cold climate heat pumps.
Lest anyone think VPIRG has become a tax-cutting conservative outfit, the advertisement offers an ominous reason why Vermonters should embrace a $500 million tax: “The ‘winter’ of 2016 was the hottest in history around the world and in Vermont … and carbon pollution is the primary cause.”
It goes on to say excessive CO2 in the atmosphere leads to Lyme disease, children with asthma, tropical storm damage and short ski seasons.
The solution is to have Vermont cut carbon emissions by one-third and “leave a healthier planet and stronger economy to our children.”
Since 2011, Vermont has imposed $300 million in higher taxes. The threat of a new $500 million increase led the Vermont Republican Party last week to release an ad that argues a looming state carbon tax is a reason to vote Republican this year.
The ad, paid for by the Vermont Republican Federal Elections Committee, says “Vermont Democrats and their special interest friends have pledged to pass the carbon tax, because for Democrats $47 million in new taxes this year wasn’t enough.”
VPIRG’s advocacy of policies that benefit renewable energy companies has led to criticism that the group represents special interests, not the public interest. Not only did VPIRG lobbyists lead the effort to pass Vermont’s Act 56 renewable portfolio standards last year and Act 174 renewable siting law this year, but the group maintains a revolving door with green energy corporate executives.
In particular, former VPIRG trustees have included AllEarth Renewables chief David Blittersdorf, and the organization’s current board members include Duane Peterson, founder and co-president of SunCommon, Vermont’s largest solar company, and Mathew Rubin, SunCommon’s finance and technology advisor. The solar giant was started by VPIRG in 2010 and spun off as a for-profit company in 2012.
Framing the carbon tax as “tax reform” has notable similarities with British Columbia, where the Canadian government has collected $5 billion in carbon taxes while cutting corporate and personal income taxes by $5.7 billion. Critics, however, say the tax is regressive and would increase the cost of fuel in Vermont by 50 percent compared to neighboring states.
VPIRG claims that more than 17,000 Vermonters have responded to its Campaign for a Clean Economy, which includes petitioning Vermont gubernatorial candidates to support tax cuts on income, employment and sales “paid for with a gradually rising tax on carbon pollution.”
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