By John Klar
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s announcement that New Hampshire will not join the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) is a promising sign for Vermonters. It is expected that Gov. Phil Scott will face a similar decision in 2020 on behalf of all Vermonters — whether or not to commit Vermont to the TCI.
The TCI is a carbon tax, imposed on consumers through gasoline and other fuels. In Vermont, an initial gasoline tax of between 5 and 18 cents per gallon of gasoline is proposed (to be subsequently increased). Various means of spending or redistributing the taxes are under consideration, but the entire proposal is a burden on Vermont taxpayers, unlikely to curb emissions, and inequitable. It also disproportionately burdens rural residents — the residents already most burdened.
I have written numerous articles asserting the unfairness and ineffectiveness of many of these schemes. The TCI is the Queen Scheme. Gov. Sununu comfortably labels the TCI a “financial boondoggle” because it is one. (The Granite State is graced with a rock-solid governor).
Because New Hampshire has openly flouted the TCI, it will be even more unfair (and absurd) if Vermont imposes, and later increases, a gasoline tax. Other states, too, are likely to balk at this now unavoidable imbalance. The higher the tax is subsequently raised, the more Vermonters will drive (extra miles, = carbon and pollution) over the border to save money; the more tourists will select the White Mountains over the Green for vacationing; the more businesses will “steer clear” of Vermont.
Gov. Scott must similarly preempt the expansion of the carbon tax threat. He has said he opposed such a tax (despite creating a committee to study it). He has said he embraces affordability, and this tax hurts the economy as well as the poorest citizens. And as New Hampshire’s Office of Strategic Initiatives Director Jared Chicoine argued, “There are clearly better ways to achieve the purported goals of this program…. This proposal is a huge hit to the wallets of rural drivers.” Gov. Phil Scott would grant Vermonters an early Christmas present if he promptly echoed Gov. Sununu’s brave declaration, and proclaimed that Vermont will not be joining this poorly-conceived lark. Taxpayers might dream of sugarplums instead of credit card balances, and enter 2020 as a happy new year.
If Vermont declared it had rejected the TCI, then too the other dominoes would fall, each state’s refusal increasing the likelihood of the next. But if Phil Scott falters, and signs on to the gasoline tax plan, he not only abandons our New Hampshire neighbor — he improves the likelihood that other states will embrace higher gasoline taxes also.
This magnifies the stakes for the Vermont governor, and for the rest of us. The sensible decision is clear — publicly reject the TCI for Vermont and Vermonters, right now.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield. He is running for governor in 2020.