By Rob Roper
In a July 9 interview on WDEV’s Dave Gram show, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist came out in favor of a carbon tax on Vermonters.
The first question the host asked her was, why are you running for governor, and her first answer was, “My passion was to solve climate change using the electric grid,” and promised to “accelerate the work we’re doing on climate change, because we can.” Hallquist then cited her qualifications as CEO of an electric cooperative, the Vermont Electric Co-Op.
She was then specifically asked if she supported the latest carbon tax scheme, the ESSEX Plan, which would place a tax on fossil fuels (ultimately, gasoline at 32 cents per gallon, diesel and home heating oil at 40 cents per gallon, and propane, natural gas, and others similarly). The revenue would then be used to subsidize electric rates by giving grants to utilities like the one Hallquist used to run. (She stepped down from her position to run for governor.)
Hallquist replied, “Yeah … putting a price on carbon is the most effective policy [for reducing climate change].” She then qualified that she would look at all ideas in a collaborative process, but reiterated, “I will tell you that is the most effective method of mitigating carbon — is putting a price on carbon.”
What followed was a bizarre debate between the host and the candidate over language as Hallquist steadfastly refused to call the carbon tax a tax. “You’ve got to be careful — I think using the word “tax”… becomes inflammatory,” said Hallquist. The host, Dave Gram, was having none of it.
Dave Gram: “You expressed a great deal of reluctance to use the “T” word – “tax” — when referring to a new levy on carbon based fossil fuels, and I just sort of sat back for a moment and thought to myself if we can’t use the word tax anymore in our political discourse – you know taxes are a pretty matter of course thing that are raised to various degrees on various things to fund government. … Tell me a little bit about your reluctance to use that word. That is what we’re talking about? A tax on fossil fuels?”
Christine Hallquist: “I don’t want to miss innovative ideas like a price on carbon by using language that might have been coopted by others. … [A long dissembling explanation on use of language referencing Reagan, income inequality, and dividing people as opposed to bringing them together] … “If we call it a price on carbon, which is what I believe it is, opponents are going to call it a tax. Now, taxes have been used to drive fear and division into Vermont and really specifically so within the last two years, and that’s exactly why I am running.”
Dave Gram: Aren’t we ceding that there has to be a negative connotation to the word “tax”? … Because we have now decided to relegate “tax” to a word that is divisive and bad, we’re not even allowed to use it anymore and be straight forward about what we’re doing. I mean, I think people will peel back the phrase “a price on carbon” and say, oh, that means I’m going to be paying an extra thirty or forty cents a gallon for gasoline. Then maybe you could make the argument that, yeah, there are very good reasons for doing that. We’re trying to discourage the use of gasoline. We want to raise this money to put into other kinds of energy conservation, or other types of transportation, or whatever. We’re going to employ it to try and fight climate change. My own thought as a writer and reporter for thirty years is I’ve always tried to use words that were more direct and straight forward. And, I think if you are a liberal who believes in the idea of government needing to raised money for good purposes, you should raise the flag and say … we do impose taxes and it’s something we have to do in order to have a decent government.”
Christine Hallquist: “I think I’m going to bring people back to where you’re going by talking about “strategic investments.” Investments. These are all investments in our future.” She cited historical examples of infrastructure projects.
Dave Gram: Did they call them “strategic investments back then, or did they say we’re going to build interstate highways and we’re going to charge a gasoline tax [fades off into laughter]”
Hallquist conceded, “They did that,” but she stuck to her guns that she would not call a carbon tax the tax that it is.
So, will Vermonters allow the wool to be pulled over their eyes, or will they see a tax for what it is — a tax?