Deal or No Deal: Part III

Two weeks ago, we noted the controversy in Washington state over a grassroots effort to have the Evergreen state become the first in the nation to implement a revenue-neutral carbon tax to address climate change. The policy is intended to attract bipartisan support, though it remains unclear, at this point, if that will actually happen.

By all logic, this policy should attract the support of conservatives, even those who deny human-caused climate change,
based on a recent study of its economic impact:

The campaign to create a new carbon tax in Washington has been selling its 2016 initiative as “revenue neutral” — saying it would balance out its tax increase with tax cuts to have little net impact on the state budget.

But a state analysis calls that into question, estimating Initiative 732 would cut overall state tax collections by about $675 million over four years, even as the state faces big demands for increased education and mental-health funding.

While that figure is disputed by I-732 backers, it could give ammunition to environmental and progressive critics who have pushed for an alternative that would bring in more money for the state while still fighting climate change.

The analysis, conducted by nonpartisan legislative staff, was requested by state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, chairman of the House Finance Committee. Carlyle said he respects the efforts of I-732 backers and supports putting a price on carbon emissions but said the impact on the state budget has to be considered.

“It’s a very substantial reduction, not revenue-neutral,” he said.

Yoram Bauman, co-founder of Carbon Washington, the group backing I-732, said he disagrees with the state analysis. “I continue to be confident our policy is approximately revenue-neutral,” he said.

You would figure that the prospect of Washington state losing $675 million in revenue would enhance the popularity of this effort on the right; after all, in the conservative mind, that’s $675 million less in “waste, fraud and abuse,” not to mention “handouts” and “welfare.” Yet, the Al-Gore-sucks crowd doesn’t appear to be warming up to this effort to fight warming:

Doug Ericksen, the Republican chair of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, implies he’ll oppose the tax shift. “My basic viewpoint is that if you want to build or manufacture in America, you can do it in Washington state currently with a lower carbon footprint than pretty much anywhere else, and so we should be encouraging people to come to Washington to create manufacturing jobs. I think that adding a 25 percent tax on energy would discourage businesses from locating in Washington to create good, blue-collar, family wage, manufacturing jobs.”

But senator, doesn’t the cut to business and sales taxes stimulate business? Ericksen says he has concerns about “the government…trying to pick and choose those kinds of things.”

According to the Sightline Institute, Ericksen is the legislature’s third-largest recipient of political contributions from fossil fuel companies. During a phone interview, Ericksen thrice declined to affirm that human-caused climate change is real, replying, “The climate’s always changing.”

Since progressives in Washington state are also skeptical of this effort, it will be quite interesting to see just how much public support this effort will actually generate (besides the admittedly impressive 362,000 signatures Carbon Washington collected to commence this campaign). One thing’s for certain: if this attempt–however controversial or flawed–to price carbon fails, future generations could pay the price.

UPDATE: More from Bloomberg View, Carbon Washington, Matt Driscoll and KUOW-FM.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.