By Rob Roper
The carbon tax really is the zombie, body snatcher legislation that will not die. The past couple of months have seen a massive ramping up of pro-carbon tax activities by the VPIRG led coalition, Energy Independent Vermont. These folks have gone into overdrive, stacking public forums with carbon tax advocates and filling local papers with letters and op-eds pressuring Gov. Phil Scott to “be a leader” and pass a carbon tax. All this activity reached a peak on Nov. 8 when a group unveiled what they are calling “the Essex Plan” — another major proposal to tax Vermonters for driving our cars and heating our homes.
No particular organization has its name on The Essex Plan, but it does list thirteen authors from across the climate activist spectrum. The group includes David Mears, former Commissioner of Environmental Conservation; Jon Erikson of the Gund Institute; Rick Hausman, a former State Representative; plus several high-profile business owners who, most if not all, appear to by linked to Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR). As such, it is worth noting that VBSR recently hosted a pro-carbon tax informational meeting and has upped its profile in support of passing some sort of carbon tax.
The Essex Plan (the significance of the name is not explained) would ultimately be a $240 million tax on gasoline (32¢/gal), heating oil and diesel fuel (40¢/gal) — though not dyed diesel — and natural gas and propane (24¢/gal). In this respect it is “better” than the VPIRG plan, which topped out at over a half a billion. Fifty percent of this revenue would be used to subsidize Vermont’s electric utilities for the purpose of lowering electric rates, and the other half would be redistributed to low-income and rural Vermonters via a rebate scheme.
The authors state that the electric subsidies under the Essex plan would mean $8 million in savings for a company like IBM and would “slash” the bills of ski areas, which use lots of electricity to run their lifts.
While we support making it cheaper to do business in Vermont, and very much want these businesses to succeed on their own merits, it is not desirable to make it so by forcing taxpayers cut these companies a check. This is what the Essex Plan effectively does. Would you support, for example, any increase in the gas tax if the stated purpose was to subsidize ski resorts or Global Foundries or any other business? If your answer is “no,” then you do not support The Essex Plan.
It is also ironic that the authors tout the Essex Plan as “billion dollar ‘Buy Local’ campaign,” when the businesses they cite as benefiting most are not locally owned. For example, Stowe is owned by Vail, Killington is owned by Utah-based Powdr, Okemo is owned by a Florida based company, Ben & Jerry’s is owned by Unilever and Global Foundries is headquartered in California. In fact, Green Mountain Power, which would receive the bulk of these subsidies directly as it controls roughly 78 percent of Vermont’s power distribution, is owned by the Canadian company Gaz Metro. Again, we like all of these companies and want them to succeed, but on their own and without handouts from the taxpayer.
The Essex Plan is just one carbon tax proposal that will be up in 2018. In the closing weeks of the 2017 legislative session, legislators put forward four different carbon tax bills — H.528, H.531, H.532 and H.533 — which their sponsors said are designed to “start a conversation.” Funny, we thought that conversation was concluded when Gov. Phil Scott trounced Sue Minter on the strength of promising to veto any carbon tax. Nevertheless, here we go again.