John Klar: Vermont’s fire and brimstone carbon tax

By John Klar

In recent decades American government has developed a penchant for “sin” taxes of various varieties that push too far the definitional envelope of what is “rational” or “legitimate.” Cigarettes, alcohol, and sugar were early sin substances targeted by legislatures for pecuniary castigation. But the latest and greatest sin is the fire-and-brimstone evil of scorching the Earth via our collective consumption (“anthropomorphic climate change”), for which will be imposed a regressive, ineffective, inefficient tax. It is called “the Carbon Tax.”

It is axiomatic that American government — state, federal, local — is constrained by the state and/or federal Constitutions. The government is bound to certain areas of power and to certain procedural safeguards. One oft-recited maxim is that in order to be constitutional, laws must be “rationally related to a legitimate government interest.”

John Klar

With the likes of Greta Thunberg thundering down from furrowed brow about the irreversible end of the planet, the blame-casters seek to employ government in the greatest ever syntax (grammatical progression) of a sin tax. There are no cigarettes, tequilas, or fructose syrups upon which to levy this novel extraction of consumer wealth. This is Jonathan Edwards ranting at thin air. Nor is there even a pretense of good accomplished — in Vermont, carbon tax proponents concede that curbing the Green Mountain State’s paltry contribution to greenhouse gases will be globally insignificant.

The carbon tax furthers no legitimate government interest to measurably improve the ecosystem. It is unlikely to significantly alter fuel consumption.  As related in a Wharton School interview:

To answer the question you raised — how should these taxes exist and how big should they be — the key question is how much people reduce consumption in response to the tax. Do they keep consuming the same amount and just pay more? Or do they actually reduce how much they’re consuming?

The carbon tax is unquestionably regressive — it disproportionately burdens the poor.  A 2009 George Mason University publication warned:

Sin taxes are regressive, falling disproportionately on consumers at the lower end of the income distribution. … Daniel Suits actually found that excise taxes are the most regressive form of taxation. … A significant number of studies, though somewhat controversial, argue that excise taxes have negative health consequences because they crowd out private expenditures, a portion of which would have been spent on private health and safety measures. This means that by instituting sin taxes, the government is effectively preventing people from spending their own money on things like safer cars, preventive medical check-ups, baby gates, and smoke detectors. Evidence shows that for every $15 million taken out of the hands of consumers, there is one statistical death. Another paper finds statistical evidence that the poor suffer more on the health front from dollars being crowded out by government policies.

It is well established that rent controls — however well intentioned — are counterproductive and ineffective. But rent controls initially do assist the targeted group of low-income renters; carbon taxes immediately punish the poor. Why would Vermont’s Legislature rush to impose a large tax that won’t achieve its stated end, but that will impact the economy and the poor adversely?

That George Mason commentary offers an answer:

So-called sin taxes, even those passed with the best of intentions, have undesirable consequences because they contradict basic principles of economics, finance and, most importantly, free choice. … [T]axing sin usually does not end up significantly altering the “sinful” behavior but rather rewards the very private organizations or politicians who have lobbied for the tax. … Sin tax activists strongly believe that most citizens are inherently incapable of making consumption decisions for themselves. … Once it becomes “legitimate for government to protect individuals from their own follies,” there is no way to establish limits to governmental powers.

In addition to taxing the gasoline of Vermonters’ over-inspected cars, the Legislature plans to tax their home heating oil. Vermont suffers bitterly cold winters, and many people heat with oil.  The non-working poor will still receive fuel free from the state, but presumably, they will receive aid in dollar amounts, so unless exempted, they will receive less fuel assistance.

To assist California corporations that pollute, Vermont is eagerly organizing schemes to “sell” sequestered carbon from Vermont trees as “credits” to “offset” that West Coast pollution. And for some time now, Vermont has imposed surcharges on electricity usage to “support” renewable energy corporations — the “market rate” for New England has been around 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, with Vermonters instead paying 14–18 cents per kilowatt-hour. In some cases, Vermont electric utility companies sell electricity to out-of-state customers at substantially lower rates than their Vermont customers.

This pretty much sums up the Vermont carbon tax situation. But instead of that “rational basis review” crafted by the United States Supreme Court, Vermonters may in hope rely upon Article 9 of the Vermont Constitution, which provides that “…previous to any law being made to raise a tax, the purpose for which it is to be raised ought to appear evident to the Legislature to be of more service to community than the money would be if not collected.” That’s a pretty impossible standard for the Fire and Brimstone Carbon Tax to surmount — Vermonters’ money would clearly be of more service to the community if left in their pockets.

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. This commentary originally appeared at American Thinker.

Image courtesy of Public domain

21 thoughts on “John Klar: Vermont’s fire and brimstone carbon tax

  1. Hey, Mr. Klar, have you heard about Sen. Phil Baruth pushing a bill to ban the carrying of firearms within city & town limits across the state? Now is the time for you to take a bold, vocal stand in total support of the 2nd Amendment and Article 16 of the Vermont Constitution! That is, if you’re serious about running for governor.

  2. Does anybody know when the climate changed or when global warming began? I believe our last ice age occurred about 10,000 years ago and Vermont was under about two miles of ice. Thank goodness for campfires or we’d still be chilling!

  3. I’d like to recommend, again, that your more than reasonable points of view be expressed in the ‘lions den’ of Vermont’s progressive media (e.g. VT Digger/Seven Days). I appreciate seeing your information here and hope you all will continue to cite it on TNR. But preaching to the choir only goes so far. Keep your comments nonpersonal – no invectives. ‘Just the facts Ma’am’.

    For example, consider this commentary by former Ethan Allen Institute operative, Shayne Spence. Apparently, he is being converted to the progressive climate change narrative. Your commentary is advised.

  4. With regard to nuclear power, it is not appropriate to mention Chernobyl over and over again.
    That reactor had NO CONTAINMENT vessel and other deficiencies.

    However, ALL operating utility reactors in the US do have containment vessels.
    In case of Three Mile Island, the radiation was effectively contained after an accident.

    Today about 450 nuclear reactors are operating in 30 countries plus Taiwan, combined capacity of about 400,000 MW.
    In 2018, these provided 2563 TWh of electricity, over 10% of the world’s electricity.

    About 50 reactors are being constructed in 15 countries, in China, India, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

    Each year, the OECD’s International Energy Agency (IEA) presents its World Energy Outlook (WEO) report.

    In the 2019 edition (WEO 2019), the IEA’s ‘Stated Policies Scenario’ sees installed nuclear capacity growth of over 15% from 2018 to 2040, reaching about 482,000 MW, with the increase concentrated heavily in Asia, and in particular China (34% of the total increase).

    In 2040, nuclear would provide about 8.5% of the world’s electricity.
    The world’s electricity is expected to increase at 2 to 3 percent per year from 2018 to 2040.
    If nuclear were so “dangerous”, the continued expansion of nuclear would not happen.

  5. Democrats and their CARBON tax are absolutely nuts.
    They should push for more hydro power.

    Hydropower is one of the cleanest of power sources.
    Almost no CO2/kWh on an A to Z basis, and certainly near-zero toxic particulate emissions and near-zero toxic gas emissions per kWh, much less than wind and solar.

    It is true building the water storage reservoirs to ensure CONTINUOUS hydropower causes environmental impact, but the alternative is mining rare earth metals in a far dirtier manner in China to build an equivalent capacity of far more expensive battery storage, and for rare earth metals for solar panels and wind turbines.

    Vermont would be well served to obtain additional STEADY hydropower from Hydro Quebec at about 5.6 c/kWh; the low-cost electricity would boost its anemic, near-zero, real-growth economy far more than building out expensive, variable, intermittent, grid-disturbing wind and solar at about 10 c/kWh, excluding additional grid and battery investments.

    • You should read what has happened to the indigenous people in the area of extreme northern QB because of Hydro QB dams and lakes, not to mention all the wildlife. I guess that’s OK for those primitives because we civilized people can’t be expected to have things like nuclear power plants in our back yards.

      • Roland,

        That hydropower is absolutely nothing in comparison to the holocaust of 1617, 1618, 1619, during which about 80 to 90 percent of the Northeast natives were wiped out from European diseases. Just start Googling.

        That word got around in the Netherlands.

        The coast was clear for the Pilgrims to land at Plymouth, right on top of an abandoned native village.

        At that time, it was considered:

        “God’s will favoring us pious Pilgrims and punishing these unchristian heathens”

        That became the rallying cry in Canada and the US to make possible all our subsequent modernity.

        The Canadian natives have been very amply compensated by the Canadian government to ADJUST their lifestyles to modern reality, which ALL OF US have had to do at times.

  6. Carbon Tax Impact On A Typical Vermont Family, as reported on VTDigger:

    Any tax, including a carbon tax, passing through the hands of government suffers from “the sticky fingers syndrome”, 2 dollars go in about 1.5 dollars come out. The difference stays to feed the growing government bureaucracy.

    The key word missing in most discussions is UNILATERAL. VT’s government imposing on Vermonters a unilateral carbon tax is like shooting them in the feet.

    If the carbon tax were nationwide, I would support it.

    The carbon tax would:

    – Impose a $10/ton tax of carbon emitted in 2017, increasing to $100/ton in 2027.
    – Generate about $100 million in state revenue in 2019, about $520 million in 2027.
    – Be added to the fuel prices at gas stations and fuel oil/propane dealers.
    – Drivers should expect a tax increase of 9 c/gal of gasoline in 2018, increasing to about 89 cents in 2027.
    – Homeowners, schools, hospitals, businesses, etc., should expect a tax increase of 58 c/gal of propane and $1.02/gal of heating oil and diesel fuel in 2027.
    – A typical household (two wage earners, two cars, in a free-standing house) would pay additional taxes in 2027 of about:
    – Some of the carbon tax extortion would be at the pump, some when the monthly fuel bills arrive, and some as higher prices of OTHER goods and services.

    Driving = $0.89/gal x 2 x 12000 miles/y x 1/(30 miles/gal) = $712/y
    Heating = $1.02/gal x 800 gal/y = $816/y
    Total carbon tax in 2027 = $1528/y
    Sales tax reduction 5/6 x 1400 = $233/y
    Net tax increase = $1295/y

    – The hypocritical sop of reducing the sales tax from 6 to 5 percent would save that household about $233 in sales taxes, for a net loss of $1295 in 2027. That means such households, the backbone of the Vermont economy, would have about $1300/y less to make ends meet.
    – Many of these households have had stagnant or declining, spendable real incomes (after taxes, fees, surcharges; other recurring expenses, etc.), plus dealing with a near-zero, real-growth Vermont economy, since 2000.
    – With less real income, and higher real prices for goods and services, they also would have to make their own energy efficiency improvements.

  7. Vermont’s Economic Development Policy: Left-leaning Democrat politicians have adopted an unwritten “economic development policy”: Maximize the schlepping of federal funds into Vermont to start/subsidize government programs, and start/subsidize government/business partnerships, which, as a side benefit, create a spectrum of subsidy-dependent constituencies, that produce reliable votes year after year. These programs and partnerships usually pay too little in state and local taxes to more than offset their subsidies, i.e., they do not provide a significant net gain. Annual government budget deficits are offset by means of annual increases of taxes, fees and surcharges imposed on the near-zero, real growth private sector, The “policy” has failed to create a vibrant, growing private sector, with prosperous households and businesses, since 2000.

    If the carbon tax bill were enacted, special interests, seeing this large source of funds, would pile on it, and grab as much of it as possible, as happened with the ARRA funds a few years ago. The Vermont approach would be complicated and lead to more bureaucracy and rules and regulations. It would definitely not be hands-off.

    For Vermont to impose a unilateral carbon tax would make its economy less competitive versus other states, i.e., more brain drain, and fewer good-paying, steady, full-time jobs, with good benefits in the private sector. The carbon tax would be another headwind for the near-zero, real-growth Vermont economy.

    The carbon tax would further aggrandize Vermont’s government, which is too large, too inefficient, spending too much money, is bloated with programs, and is running annual deficits, that are offset with annual increases of taxes, fees and surcharges, as if money grows on trees.

    The carbon tax would transfer up to $520 million per year, less sales tax reductions, into incompetent, inefficient government hands for “disbursements”; EB-5, Health care website, Montpelier Heating Plant, etc. come to mind.

  8. The Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan, CEP, goal aims to “transform” the Vermont economy. It would require investments of about $33.3 billion, about $1 billion per year for 33 years, during the 2017 – 2050 period, per Vermont Energy Action Network 2015 Annual Report. The CEP could not be implemented without a very high carbon tax and other taxes, surcharges and fees of at least $970 million per year for 33 years.

    • Towns and cities in VT are under the heavy hammer of state govt and regional planning commissions to get these CEP’s included in every existing local plan. This concept is UN Agenda 21 tactic, and if carried out as designed will truly be the beginning of the end. For this coming year, the brain dead legislature must oppose the carbon tax, period. Without that, the plan is pretty much dead. With the plan moving forward with the tax approval, it will be an exodus of massive proportions the likes of which have never been seen. The worst part of the mindset in these clowns, is wealth redistribution, along with the goal to control of each person’ s life, the activities, who can do whatever whenever with permission. Saving up enough gasoline to make the trip (one way) to New Hampshire would be high on my list of things to do. Vermonters need to flood Scott’s office with messages to veto any and all of this non-sense, specifically the carbon tax,
      The killer of all killers.

  9. The folks in Montpelier have NEVER walked away from an opportunity to tax. It’s my understanding that during the legalization of marijuana debate for example, there was some hesitancy until it was pointed out that there was a 25% tax opportunity. Wonder if that’s one of the reasons it passed.

  10. Montpelier and it’s Liberal Braintrust and it ” Carbon Tax, ” AKA “Fee” the games they
    play to try and pass nonsense and this bill is a good one to pound the working taxpayer
    all for an agenda.

    If every Vermonter walked everywhere, and we stopped ” all ” fossil fuel vehicles, yes all
    that includes Police, Fire, DOT Vehicles, Planes, Trains from now until the end of time per
    AOC’s twelve-year prediction” Idiot ” it wouldn’t put a dent in the CO2 being expelled from
    India, China, Russia not to mention California, who’s polluting more in a year than VT will
    do in ten………………

    This Carbon Tax Boondoggle will only hurt working Vermonters and will do nothing to solve
    the problems of the world !!

    The only problem Vermont has are Liberals in the Statehouse, vote them out.

    • Could you imagine firemen walking to a fire each carrying a bucket of water. It would be like the bucket brigade you see in old westerns. LOL.

  11. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” and the AGW cabal is clearly an established fanatic religion with a rigid and mandatory doctrine. Non believers and apostates are demonized and shunned. Disputation condemned, those who speak against it are attacked – sometimes physically assaulted. Fascist mobs are utilized to prevent public expression of dissent. They even have purchasable carbon indulgences to assuage the conscience of the carbon indulgent wealthy and prelates of the religion. They now have their euhemerized Saint Greta, a mentally challenged juvenile babbling impending Armageddon – upon the verge of which we have been perched since the seventies. How far is this soap opera from generating martyrs – and when will the government stop supporting it, stop imposing its burdens on the unwilling?

  12. Clearly, the climate misinformation propagated in our schools and certain media has been created by government organizations using expensive and, for the most part, inaccurate computer models. How do we know the models are inaccurate? Because, for the last 30 years at least, their forecasts have been inaccurate.

    Why are these models still being promoted? It appears to be a plot from Michael Creighton’s book State of Fear. A sociopolitical demagoguery is aimed at controlling the finances of a singular global enterprise… a global monopoly, if you will, not only of energy production but everything that relies on it. It’s yet another manifestation of the existential philosophical debate between global socialism and, in our case, our American Constitutional Republic that supports individual freedom and free enterprise.

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