I suspect most self-identified progressive groups would agree that human-caused climate change is an emergency that requires sacrifice to overcome. That’s why it’s so disappointing that State leaders like Governor Inslee are so lukewarm about I-732, a revenue-neutral carbon tax, because they are subordinating the need to reduce emissions to other political objectives. This kitchen sink style of legislating diffuses the needed climate focus of the legislation, and in the eyes of the median voter will appear as just another means of enlarging state government.

What’s so frustrating and cynical about this stance is that the deep cuts to sales tax and B&O tax in I-732 create space to restore those taxes to fund other state priorities. But some obviously fear that those priorities are too unpopular to win a vote on their own merits, and are willing to make climate action less palatable to moderates, in the hope of attaching unrelated goals to what should be a focused emergency response.

Now the state political establishment has an organizational ally in unions and “climate justice” groups, looking to use carbon taxes to fund their pet projects instead of rewarding people with tax rebates:

Revenue-neutral is not going to get us to accelerate the investments in communities that are most severely impacted,” Garcia said. “If we just cap carbon across everything, communities of color and low-income communities are not ever going to proportionally become equal. They will always be more affected.

This is disappointing doublespeak. If raising sales tax .1% to pay for transit is decried as disproportionately impacting the poor, then it stands to reason that a proposed sales tax cut that is an order of magnitude larger would disproportionately benefit the poor. On top of that Initiative 732 would give tax rebates to 400,000 low income Washingtonians.

Most interesting of all, the opponents are taking a page out of the gun lobby playbook by shopping a competing initiative on the same ballot, confusing and dividing voters:

Local labor, environmental, and social justice groups are sick of hearing debates over clean energy framed as “jobs versus the environment.” Today, a sweeping alliance of these groups announced that they’re reframing the argument by working together toward a climate initiative on the 2016 ballot…

Because what we’re saying is that we’re not going to allow workers to sacrifice their income, or their health, or their pension benefits because we want to do something around climate. We want to do both.”

This seems like a colossal misreading of the optics of spending and tax cuts, especially for a statewide vote. Taxes fund a lot of wonderful and necessary things, but they take money from people and some believe they can lead to job losses. It seems odd to position I-732, which would reduce regressive taxes and put money in the hands of small businesses, as anti-job or anti-poor people.

To be clear, if presented by itself I wouldn’t hesitate to vote for the alternate initiative, even without any inkling of how they’d spend the proceeds, because I believe that climate change is a true emergency. Indeed, if transit spending is a big part of the mix I might actually prefer it as a matter of policy. But I-732 is likely much more appealing to the median voter, and I find the attempt of some progressives to couple their pet issues to the climate contemptible given the urgency of the problem.

I encourage you to support I-732. You can start by going here.

77 Replies to “Progressive Groups Sabotaging Climate Change Initiative”

  1. This is a really disappointing reaction by the political establishment to a grass roots effort that gets a whole lot of things right and has a very good chance to win in the statewide ballot.

    I would support this legislation if the plan was to tax carbon then bury the money in a big hole somewhere. A cut to sales tax, a tax rebate for lower income working families, and a cut to the B&O tax are all a big bonus.

    I hope the groups involved in the opposition get their heads out of their collective asses and support this very important initiative.

    1. Well said. If I were running a campaign, I sure as hell would rather run one for I-732. One often overlooked group is small business. The sales tax hurts them, and the B & O tax can be a killer. The B & O tax is really one of the hidden regressive taxes in the state. If you are a small business who buys a lot and sells a lot (say, a brewpub that buys a lot of grain and sells a lot of beer or a restaurant owner who buys a lot of food and sells a lot of food) the B & O tax can be quite substantial, despite the fact that you aren’t making that much money.

      This means that the proposal will gain a lot of small business support and many of those folks don’t give a rats ass about trying to combat climate change (OK — that isn’t fair to them, but many of them aren’t sure that we can do much about the problem at the state level). But they sure like the idea of their taxes going down. So do their customers.

      Go out to Sammamish, Federal Way, Kent or Lynnwood (where all state wide votes are decided) and see if you can find a business or two that wants to see the sales tax and B & O tax go down. I could see a bar owner putting up a little sign on the window supporting I-732. Some of the customers might whine about the increase in gas prices, but the owner would tell them that the customers sales taxes would go down, and the owner’s B & O taxes would go down. Then the customer would have to sit while the owner explained just how much he pays in B & O taxes. If I’m at the edge of the bar, I chime in and mention the fact that the breweries in this state take a big hit — if that beer your drinking came from around here, a lot of the cost went into paying taxes.

      Now see how many of those folks are excited about the proposal that the other groups are formulating. It isn’t even close. If a left leaning owner puts that in the window, the same customer comes in whining about gas taxes, and next thing you know, they are talking about a bloated state government and how they waste money. The owner can certainly share stories of mismanagement and government buffoons who have wasted his time, even though he supports the proposal (because he happens to be an environmentalist living in Federal Way). You just aren’t going to win many votes that way.

      1. I do think that cutting the sales tax and providing low income families with more disposable income will be good for small business, but I-732 only essentially eliminates the B&O tax on manufacturing. (The rationale is that they’ll have to continue to compete with out of state and international firms that are not paying additional fossil fuel costs.)

      2. Oh, I missed that. Yeah, I think they just threw away a bunch of votes in the process. Small businesses of all sorts (e. g. breweries) compete with out of state companies and the B & O tax makes it harder on them.

    2. I support i-732.

      I does multiple good things while ultimately increasing the quality of our air.

      It could accelerate the use of Hydrogen which produces no CO2 on consumption.

      Any by products made on steam reforming would be sequestered and hence this bill protects the emerging clean hydrogen economy which can remove pollutants from dense urban cores and the surrounding suburbs. And of course, wind and solar generated hydrogen is always 100% carbon free from well to wheels.

      This bill makes so much sense, I had to read it 10 times over to find the whammy. So long as it is not a hidden way to fund one person’s scam, and it truly allows the blossoming of the Hydrogen Industry in Washington, then I am all for it.

      1. I emailed Yoram Bauman at CarbonWA and asked him to allay any fears with regard to Hydrogen and I-732.

        He answered:

        Hi John: As an economist I get the joy of being technology-neutral about what (if anything) will replace carbon fuels.

        As for steam reforming, see section 4(6) of our law (scroll UP a bit from here):

        “(6) The carbon pollution tax must be reduced or refunded for uses of fossil fuels that can be demonstrated not to contribute to increasing the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, for example by reason of qualified sequestration.

        The tax reduction in such cases must be proportional to the fraction of emissions that can be demonstrated not to contribute to increasing the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. The right to carbon pollution tax reduction under this subsection may not be transferred, traded, or banked.”

  2. Martin,

    Thank you for this post. It is absolutely critical that this state (finally) steps up and does something about climate change. I-732 does this by putting a price on carbon. The fact that I-732 puts a price on carbon without creating any of the standard distractions associated with tax increases or additional spending is exactly the sort of focus on climate change that we need, and I believe it increases the likelihood that I-732 passes.

    I fully support i-732 and am deeply disappointed in these progressive groups who see climate change as little more than a fund raising opportunity for their pet projects.

    We need to pass I-732 and take at least a first step against climate change. After that we can decide which other progressive projects are worthy of additional spending and/or taxation. But let’s pass I-732 first

  3. Yes, very disappointing. Perfect being the enemy of the good again. And only perfect from a very narrow viewpoint. I’m not enthusiastic about paying a carbon tax for vaguely defined “social justice” initiatives, and I’m not the sort of person who gets my political opinions from Dori Monson. A tax swap is an understandable proposition that might stand a chance. The alternative is vague enough everyone can imagine their worst nightmare: subsidizing Teslas for Amazon workers, building apodments on my block for people of color, etc.

  4. What exactly is the other group proposing — do they have an actual initiative yet, and if so, what is the wording?

    In general I agree with you Martin, but obviously these groups disagree with the politics of it. I can see their point. Remember what happened with the income tax. We had the same opportunity — a revenue neutral plan to create a very small income tax that would only effect a small number of people. That was certainly progressive (and good for business, given the prospect of lower B & O taxes). But it failed. When I look at 732, I see a proposal that is obviously better for the state — better for the environment and better for those in need. But I can’t help but think that there are a lot of idiot voters out there that won’t vote that way.

    On the other hand, if the income tax proposal was not revenue neutral, but instead promised more money for schools (e. g. lower class sizes) then it would have passed. It makes no sense, but that is the way people vote (a classic example is the fact that we have voted several times to reduce class sizes at the same time that we have voted to restrict spending). Never underestimate the stupidity of the American voter, I suppose.

    All that being said, I think the groups that oppose this and are going to come up with a different proposal are making a big mistake. I think as a result, both proposals will fail. It will muddy the waters, and that plays into the hands of opponents (who will say 732 raises taxes, even though it is revenue neutral). They seem to be crafting a bill that would probably work quite well within a functioning legislature (a little bit of this, a little bit of that) but makes little sense as an initiative. The simpler an initiative is, the easier it is to pass. I-732 is revenue neutral, and it is pretty hard to argue against it especially when gas prices are so low. But having two very similar initiatives simply splits the support. What if voters vote yes on both? I think only a small percentage of people want that. This means that support for the two initiatives will be split not only at the organizational level, but at the ballot box as well. Not good — not good at all.

    If the folks who don’t like this initiative don’t think it is good enough, then they should seek to reform it after the fact. It reminds me of the marijuana legalization vote. A significant minority (who were vocal on The Stranger blog especially) were worried about the rules on driving. So they opposed it. Fortunately, it was only a handful. Now, a couple years later, it is obvious that the worries were for naught. But more to the point, the other problems with the law (e. g. a very messy tax system) are being reformed. The law isn’t perfect, but it is sure a lot better than the previous law (that sent many people — especially people of color — to jail). The groups should take the same approach with this law. Pass I-732, since it is a very reasonable, good change. Then deal with the fact that it isn’t progressive enough. Look at the people who actually pay more in taxes (my guess is there would be only a handful). Many of those people are probably in rural areas, which means it would probably have support in the legislature as well as the whole state.

  5. I’ve long thought we should have a revenue-neutral carbon tax so I signed I-732 right away. The other initiative bothers me not so much that it may fail, but that the causes it goes to may be too narrow and it’ll feel like a squandered opportunity: a windfall going to a few causes and maybe some equally or more worthy causes being left out.

  6. What exactly do you mean by “sabotage?”

    I-732 has a lot of great policy in it. If it gets to the ballot I’ll enthusiastically vote for it. But it’s polling 20 points too low to be considered viable… and that’s BEFORE the carbon industry spends 8 figures beating it down. And if it does get to the ballot it pretty much precludes putting a more viable carbon measure before voters because two carbon measures on the same ballot virtually assures they both lose.

    Good intentions and good policy do not necessarily make a winning ballot measure.

    1. Two things about the polling.

      First I-732 is a grassroots measure. It doesn’t have the money to get out there and make a media splash. Instead it will be door to door, face to face engagements that move the needle. Luckily it has the time. Hopefully it will have the volunteers.

      Secondly, how much better would it be doing if all the big-enviro and social justice groups weren’t trying to take it down?

    2. Nice to hear from you Goldy (assuming you are *The* Goldy).

      But I think you have it backwards. You are absolutely right, having two proposals on the ballot will kill both. So the obvious answer is for these groups to support the first one, and not worry about creating a different one that will obviously fail. Please explain to me why someone would support the new initiative (whatever it is) but oppose I-732. I really don’t get that. There might be people who think it doesn’t go far enough, or doesn’t provide enough money for those in need, but the main thing is, it reduces sales taxes and B & O taxes a substantial amount. Given the current cost of fuel, it is hard to see how that doesn’t translate into a win for working people.

      As I said above, it reminds me a bit of the marijuana initiative. There were plenty of people who thought the specifics of the initiative were crap. Too hard on drivers who had a toke; a convoluted tax and regulatory system; a new law that doesn’t even allow for growing a plant or two at home. These folks wanted something like what Oregon passed. But guess what — nobody came up with a second pot initiative. We voted for it, we passed it, and it is sure as hell better than the old law. It has even been reformed a bit (the tax structure is a lot simpler).

      The polling on this issue is practically meaningless. It is like the polling on the Republican candidates (remember the bozos like Herman Cain that were once way ahead?). The key with the initiative is to not focus too much on the environmental aspect, but focus on the lowered sales tax and lowered B & O tax. Both should get a lot of support from small businesses (and the first should get support from social justice groups). If environmental groups can’t win on that platform, they sure as hell aren’t going to win with whatever it is that they will propose.

    3. Three things.

      1. I’m somewhat skeptical of people who call for strategic voting when they’d never strategically vote for their second choice themselves.

      2. Talking about polling in the context of an organized left that doesn’t support I-732 is meaningless. It’s the same with HALA: the socialists didn’t support it because it didn’t include any rent control, so they attacked it and then concern-trolled that it didn’t have enough public support.

      3. The attacks on I-732 as a tax cut, or as a giveaway to businesses, are on a bill that is tax-neutral and tax progressivity-neutral. It addresses climate change while remaining neutral about taxation and spending. When you (and Robert Cruickshank) attack the bill on these grounds (and not on narrow poll-based grounds), what you’re saying is “my domestic spending priorities are more important than climate change to the point that I’m against a climate initiative that doesn’t also address these priorities.”

      1. When you (and Robert Cruickshank) attack the bill on these grounds (and not on narrow poll-based grounds), what you’re saying is “my domestic spending priorities are more important than climate change to the point that I’m against a climate initiative that doesn’t also address these priorities.”

        That’s exactly what I hear as well. Which is fine. Everyone has different priorities and sometimes they conflict.

        What doesn’t make sense is enviro groups opposing this (and yes, remaining silent is opposition). Their membership needs to pressure them to either come out for I-732 or explain from an environmental perspective why they won’t.

        Instead it looks like they are setting up a counter proposal to try and shoot this down, and are just going to hide behind it.

      2. 2. Talking about polling in the context of an organized left that doesn’t support I-732 is meaningless. It’s the same with HALA: the socialists didn’t support it because it didn’t include any rent control, so they attacked it and then concern-trolled that it didn’t have enough public support.

        Agreed 100%.

      3. That’s exactly what I hear as well. Which is fine. Everyone has different priorities and sometimes they conflict.

        Exactly, but they can’t go on and say that. In an American political system that’s so polarized that a 2% tax increase is communism and a 2% tax cut is plutocracy and bankrupting fiscal irresponsibility, leftists sell their climate policy as saving the planet. This is while arguing over very small policy changes: California’s cap-and-trade is about $12/t-CO2, about an order of magnitude off of what Sweden is charging. So American leftists, except for certain single-issue (or single-issue-ish) activists, can’t ever say “this is more important than climate change,” because they’re framing it as saving the planet (when it comes to fighting off Republicans), and what could be more important?

      4. You know, anyone who really acts like something else is more important to our government than climate change earns my immediate dismissal.

        Climate change has a decent likelihood of wiping out humanity. The only other thing with a decent chance of doing that is global nuclear war.

        It doesn’t matter whether “communitiess of color and low income communities” are “proportionately equal” if we’re all STARVING TO DEATH due to climate change wrecking our crops. Garcia’s message says “I don’t really believe climate change is a problem”.

    4. People who just dismiss the polling don’t understand what’s being polled or how the initiative process works. Generally, you want a measure to start off above 65%. 60% is borderline doable. 55% is possible, but unlikely.

      I-732’s ballot title starts off at 39%. And even Carbon WA’s own polls only push it up it into the mid-40s. But that’s in absence of an 8-figure No campaign from the fossil fuel industry. We’re talking a billion dollar-plus a year transfer of wealth here. How much do you think the other side is willing to spend?

      Yes, there’s the occasional unicorn. And I’m the last person to shame somebody else for tilting at windmills. But if the I-732 polling is remotely accurate, its prospects are bleak, regardless of how much money we put behind it.

      1. What do you think the polling will reflect on a similar measure that doesn’t involve a tax reduction? Again, I just don’t see why anyone who is opposed to this bill (which lowers the sales tax!) is going to suddenly embrace this new proposal — a proposal so vague that those who are supporting it can’t quite say what will be in it (except for buzz words that sound great to a Seattle lefty).

        Look, the 39% might be the high point for a proposal to raise the cost of energy. That might be it. But to pretend that the 61% who oppose it will suddenly embrace something that involves more government spending is a bit crazy. I really don’t see how you can win that race. I can easily see how you can win votes from folks that will see their taxes go down once you put enough effort into it. These are folks who don’t care about climate change. But instead they are going to vote for a government program instead? That makes no sense.

      2. What are the crosstabs on the polls? For example, what’s the support by party identification, and how does it compare with polling on polarized initiatives (like, I don’t know, gay marriage from back when there were referendums on that)? If what we see is strong Democratic support, lukewarm support from Independents, and no support from Republicans, then it shows that the tax-neutrality part of the measure isn’t winning any additional votes, and a cap-and-trade system would be more popular. In contrast, if what we see is reasonable Republican support (for a progressive initiative) and lukewarm Democratic support (again, for a progressive initiative) then it indicates that progressive groups are not fighting hard for I-732 and should begin to support it to raise the numbers above 39%.

      3. Alon, cutting sales taxes is often popular among Democrats. Don’t underestimate that dynamic. Sales taxes are extremely regressive, remember?

    5. If people really think a carbon tax is a priority, they’ll keep putting it on the ballot until it succeeds. That’s what happened with legalizing marijuana, gay marriage, etc. If I-732 fails because it’s 20 points below the threshold, that doesn’t mean that it’ll never happen, it just means is popularity is not extraordinary. If they both fail, they can try again next year. If the other one succeeds, it’ll set a precedent that’ll be hard to change later, especially by those who receive its revenue. That may or may not be OK depending on what specifically it allocates the revenue to.

      1. Good point Mike. Getting something on the ballot will educate voters on this critical issue. If it does’t pass this time we can come back in 2 years and try again. If the large enviro groups in the Alliance For Jobs and Clean Energy (the umbrella group co-ordinating the creation of the competing initiative and the attack campaign, under Lisa MacLean, against I-732) had put an initiative together 2 or 4 years ago, we would be further along in educating voters and would have an even better chance of getting something passed in 2016. Eden is burning and the hour far action is late.

  7. With respect to transit in particular, I-732 provides a 40 year phase in of the tax on the carbon content of farm and transit diesel, including fuel for buses, ferries, school buses, and various other minor modes. (The tax on the carbon content of fuel for these would start at 5% of the tax on other diesel fuel, and then get another 5% closer to the tax on regular diesel every two years.)

    I-732’s reduction in the sales tax would also save transit agencies some money on purchases – like vehicles. (For example, Metro currently pays sales tax on the roughly $100 million a year it spends buying buses.)

    1. Well, diesel isn’t the only carbon emission source from transit: projects use a large amount of concrete, the production of which emits a lot of CO2. I honestly wonder if we could afford any transit projects if this passes, ironically.

      1. Do you have any evidence to back that up? For instance, how much carbon WA produced concrete (with our clean power) creates? And how much the tax will add to total cost?

        Otherwise it just sounds like FUD.

      2. Alon – areas with carbon taxes have construction costs an order of magnitude lower than America, too.

      3. Yes, but the difference is not the amount of concrete poured. To the extent I know anything more specific than “US construction costs are higher,” there are indications that the difference is labor productivity: more workers are required for each task in the US (American sandhogs aren’t well-trained in NATM techniques), giving an expensive mix of third-world productivity and first-world wages.

      4. Interesting question –

        Here are some quick estimates, drawing on the numbers from a post on the Columbia State of the Planet blog (http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2012/05/09/emissions-from-the-cement-industry/).

        About 50% of the CO2 emitted in making cement is released chemically in the process of converting the limestone to calcium oxide and CO2. Since I-732 only taxes the carbon content of fossil fuels (and of imported electricity) it wouldn’t increase the cost of those emissions (unlike Inslee’s cap and trade program, which would have required buying permits to cover them.)

        Roughly 40% of the emissions come from fuel for the 1,400 degree Farenheit kilns you need, and the other 5%-10% from electricity for other machinery and final transportation. I-732 would make those more expensive. Total CO2 emissions for a ton of cement are “nearly a ton.” For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume we get half that from the processes that I-732 would make more expensive, or 1,000 pounds. The initiative’s tax on CO2 starts at $25 per metric ton (2,200 pounds), so the tax will add roughly $11.36 a ton to the price of cement if producers don’t do anything to reduce their emissions. The price of cement has been around $100/ton (according to http://www.statista.com/statistics/219339/us-prices-of-cement/), so if my arithmetic’s correct, and producers don’t do anything to reduce emissions, this would increase cement costs 11% to 12%. (Someone else may know roughly what share of a transit project is actually attributable to the cement that goes into the concrete, in comparison to labor and other costs, but I’d be surprised if it’s large…)

        In fact, there are also a number of things producers might do to reduce their emissions. (Most obviously, if they’re fueling the kilns with coal, I-732 will be a very powerful incentive to switch to natural gas, with about 40% of the emissions that coal produces.) If you’re interested in looking into the pros and cons of other possibilities, you can Google “Low CO2 cement,” read the Columbia post cited above, or check out a cool post from Berkeley – “Roman Seawater Concrete Holds the Secret to Cutting Carbon Emissions” (http://newscenter.lbl.gov/2013/06/04/roman-concrete/)

      5. A full length concrete platform for MBTA commuter rail requires pouring about 3*225*1.2 = 810 m^3 of concrete. If there are two platforms per station, make it 1,620; if there’s just one, it will have to be a bit wider, so somewhere in between 810 and 1,620.

        Now, $100/t * 1.75 t/m^3 * 1,620 m^3 = $283,500/station. Actual MBTA cost of high platforms: about $2-3 million, based on recent projects to raise the platforms of some commuter rail stations.

        This assumes solid concrete platforms, which are not required, in case concrete prices rise (e.g. if the US decides to levy a real carbon tax and not a $25/t joke), and the amount of labor required to install it falls. It’s possible to mount a thin slab, potentially even a wooden one, on cinderblock supports; this is what New Jersey Transit uses for the high platforms of the Northeast Corridor. Potentially they can even put the slab on steel supports, but that may require additional labor to install.

      6. There have been a lot of developments in carbon-negative concrete. Pass a carbon tax and those will get commercialized faster.

    2. Correction –

      Apparently natural gas and oil don’t work as well as coal to get the extremely high kiln temperatures that the current process requires.

      1. Another PS – sorry I wasn’t a litte more explicit, but the $100 a ton is for the cement. The concrete in Alan’s calculations is only about one ninth cement – the rest is sand and gravel.

  8. In my opinion properly pricing sprawl is one of the most important goals out there. Most of our social, institutional, economic and environmental ills can be laid at the feet of sprawl. Properly pricing carbon is an important step, if not the most important step.

  9. Well, carbon taxes are regressive full stop. Actually – it’s probably more like a V shaped graph: the poorest will be the hardest hit, and jet setting people will also be hit pretty hard, but middle/upper-middle income will be the best off. Now, that’s not to say there isn’t a good that comes from carbon taxes – there surely is: but we have to consider the effect of policies of current humans, and whether poorer people are (somehow) worse off than a no-pass alternative.

    We have a low tax state, I don’t think this tax needs to be fully “revenue neutral”.

    1. There is a full cent sales tax reduction plus rebate checks of up to $1500 for 400,000 low income families.

      1. That’s exactly it. You are replacing one regressive tax with another. It is like raising the tax on cigarettes, but lowering the sales tax. Some folks come out ahead, some behind. But overall, it roughly the same and ultimately, better for everyone. Same with this proposal.

    2. “carbon taxes are regressive”

      Only if they’re not revenue neutral. If a carbon tax goes up while a sales tax goes down, then the only people worse off are those who buy mostly energy and nothing else. Which is nobody. We’ve heard about people paying 70% of their income on housing, and people paying 30% of their income on gas for their car, but nobody paying 70% of their income on gas and other energy.

      1. This is what drive me crazy about the 732 opposition. We have the most regressive tax code in the country. Carbon taxes are regressive. So you’re talking about putting a regressive tax ON TOP OF an already too regressive system.

      2. What on top of? It’s replacing one tax with another. How is that putting a tax on top of a tax?

      3. Ironically, the only thing it puts a tax on top of is gasoline. Since gas is exempt from the sales tax and has its own gas tax instead (to dedicate all the revenue to highways), then it won’t participate in the sales-tax reduction.That will make gas slightly more expensive than everything else.

        On another note, reducing the sales tax will bring it closer to Oregon’s no sales tax. That should please some people in Clark County, after they’ve gotten over “How dare they tax my SUV fuel!”

      4. You missed my point/I wan’t clear enough. It is the liberal opposition to I-732 who want to put a regressive carbon tax on top of the existing level of regressive sales tax.

      5. to put a regressive carbon tax on top of the existing level of regressive sales tax

        This is just utterly and completely false. It would not be “on top of the existing level” because it simultaneously adds the new tax and lowers “the existing level” of regressive taxation.

      6. Djw: I think Ian agrees with you. The argument as I understand it is that I-732 is tax progressivity-neutral, whereas the proposed cap-and-trade alternative ends up being more regressive because it doesn’t have the sales tax refund, instead putting the money into a slush fund that may or may not be spent directly on the poor.

    3. Nope, the tax shift actually makes the tax system more progressive, by cutting sales tax and funding rebates for low income people. If all you cared about was making the tax system more progressive, you would still vote for this bill.

  10. Sometimes I curse myself for living in an overly politically correct and environment- and climate change- conscious region of the country. If we northwesterners are going to get our collective panties in a knot over BNSF’s plans to run coal and oil trains through our cities or Shell’s arctic drilling rig floating in Elliott Bay, we’re gonna easily forget that even though public transportation, and “green” energy alternatives are good, sometimes fossil fuels are necessary for some things.

    Case in point–our buses and railroad locomotives (unless one wants to cough up millions for electrification).

    1. This doesn’t ban fossil fuels, it just helps more properly price them.

      And since public transit moves many more people per ton of carbon, it will be impacted less than SOV usage.

      1. Exactly. This just has an influence on things. Here is a typical scenario:

        A guy wants to buy a truck. He talks with the sales guy and he is considering two different models. They both cost about the same amount. The first one has a bit more room, while the second one has better gas mileage. Right now, the guy buys the first one. He tells him that MPG doesn’t matter to him, what with gas prices being what they are. But if this passes, maybe he buys the second one. Before you feel sorry for the guy (because either way he pays gas taxes) he would pay hundreds less for either truck under this proposal.

        It is like a lot of taxes — cigarette and alcohol taxes being a great example. They don’t ban the thing outright, but they discourage use. Anyone who follows the car market knows that gas prices have a huge effect on car purchases (e. g. you can get a Prius really cheap right now) but also effects behavior (people drive more when the price of gas is low). This means that people find other ways to spend their money. With lower sales taxes, it means they might drive a little less, and spend a bit more on in state purchases. Overall, this would be better for the economy, better for the environment and probably better for the average working class person in the state.

    2. Could be just a selfish personal thing, SR, but I’d rather cough up electrification money than my lungs. It’s a good thing my overseas-made underwear is so raggedy it won’t knot, because every coal train, including those beautiful bright Santa Fe locomotives and every metal surface following them, carries enough coal dust to power Shanghai. And that’s not including the criminally uncovered cargo.

      Even worse, my former home of thirty years in Ballard is two blocks from the very old drawbridge over the Ship Canal. People I care about still live there. If the speculator who bought our complex actually leveled the neighborhood for a personal mansion, I might feel a little differently about the results of US management’s chronically deferred maintenance crossed one time too many by a mile-long napalm bomb.

      One of the very few self-inflicted horrors I wouldn’t wish on Texas. Even while it’s hosting a convention of every board of directors and their political abettors responsible for the current massive exposure to the eyes of Heaven of something under North Dakota that had been located so close to Hell by Somebody Who Knew What They Were Doing.

      I’m also old enough to remember the initiation and context of the term “politically correct.” First applied to the civil rights movement starting in the early 1960’s, it meant that people who inflicted or tolerated centuries of misery couldn’t stand the minuscule discomfort of ending it.

      Marking the bare beginning of the end of an eon when everybody benefiting from the whole gamut between slavery and legally-enforceable residential discrimination against Jews as well Blacks had no need to be crude and say it out loud. Time-machine yourself back to Royal Oak, Michigan in 1955 with either skin darker than a Miami tan or a name like Bernstein. Trying to become a neighbor of anybody on the Chamber of Commerce.

      But Martin, at a hearing in Tacoma on coal trains several years ago, I had some regrettable words with a railroad worker from Centralia, whose family probably hadn’t had decent work for forty years. After hearing my own memories of large-vehicle driving in the words of a BN engineer. Mindset-wise, I was a lot closer to those men than to most of my fellow coal-train opponents.

      Perfect grand-scale example of the Democratic Party’s Texas-grade disaster self-infliction: If in January 2009, the winning candidate had made his first act the seizure of the banks that had just wrecked our country, and his second a demand to Congress for the public works program we still desperately need, his party would have won the 2010 election in a walk.

      Second didn’t happen because President Obama considered the first politically incorrect. Which, SR, is reason my next pair of shorts will be cotton that’ll hold a maritime double-bowline knot.

      Mark Dublin

    3. If a 3 mpg bus is carrying 50 people who would otherwise be driving 45 20 mpg cars, you can see how buses use a lot less fuel per person. And Metro buys diesel in bulk long-term contracts, not at the retail price.

  11. Yes. Whether we should have a carbon tax is an important question. How much revenue the state should collect is also an important question. Let’s decouple our decisions on these two important questions so that the wishes of the people can be respected in both areas. Bundling one group’s opinions on both questions into a single initiative increases the odds of maintaining the status quo.

    1. Two other important questions are: what should the state be spending money on and how much, and is a carbon tax better or worse than cap-and-trade? The first answers the question of how much revenue the state should collect. The second answes the question of how beneficial to the environment will a carbon tax be? I’ve generally preferred a carbon tax because it’s simpler and less vulnerable to behind-the-scenes manipulation, but I’ve begun to get persuaded by the argument that if the problem is carbon emissions, we should address carbon emissions directly with a cap rather than indirectly with a tax that may or may not lead to the target emissions rate. But still, something is better than nothing. A carbon tax is better than nothing at all, regardless of whether it’s quite as good as cap-and-trade.

  12. Whatever its economic effect, it’s always seemed outrageous to me that anybody should be taxed on the very tools they own that make them productive. Levied whether they earn any profit or not.

    I’ve got no idea why the voters of the State of Washington have tolerated the Business and Occupations tax for so long. Though very telling that Tim Eyman has never gotten close to touching this one.

    But seriously, can anybody cite me a single case in recent political memory that any tax has forced anybody, large or small, out of business, in Washington State or any other?

    To me, danger is far outweighed by the widespread damage caused by large rich companies who suddenly leave a state for any reason they feel like, taking with them the profits the state guaranteed them by having their taxes paid by less affluent people and businesses.

    Any doubt that an initiative permanently forbidding this practice would sweep the State from every little bar with a Pabst sign to all the restaurants in South Lake Union with sandblasted bricks and one word for a name?

    Whose price list should he headed with the single French word for “Extortion”.

    However it’s also true that large amounts of pollution can also be eliminated, along with other wasted expense, by relatively inexpensive measures that keep transit moving, however fueled.

    Screaming example: How much would it cost to mandate that every locality in the State that has a transit system simply put its arterial traffic signals to flashing yellow, and cross-streets to flashing red, between midnight and an hour past dawn?

    Since physics dictates that accelerating from a stop costs extra fuel, and stopping extra vehicle wear, elimination of any stop between loading areas means both pollution cut and repairs saved. Without a dime more equipment.

    Of course I’ll vote for I-732. For starters. But it’s not only fair, but good thinking and excellent politics to be constantly seeking and initiating other measures to the same end. Exactly like in politics, it’s possible for public service to profitably substitute sweat for money.

    Mark Dublin


  13. There’s a lot wrong with this post, but the main thing is it sets up I-732 as the de facto carbon pricing initiative and the Alliance’s plan as some method of wrecking it.

    The truth is the reverse. Governor Inslee’s cap and trade plan was on the table well before Carbon Washington chose a revenue-neutral carbon tax and before they began circulating signatures. In fact, they began circulating signatures before the legislature had adjourned for the year. By Martin’s logic, it’s Carbon Washington that sabotaged a climate change proposal.

    The Alliance was wrong to wait this long to file something. But that doesn’t mean they’re somehow wreckers or that we should defer to I-732, which is fatally flawed from both a policy and political perspective.

    1. Go on. Why is I-732 fatally flawed?
      From the outside, it does seem like the political establishment is mad that a grassroots effort is stealing their thunder. Its a weird dynamic, and a weird visual. If I-732 is actually not possible that is one thing, but why do you think that?

      1. So… say we have a choice between capping and taxing. That isn’t the case, but suppose that it is.

        If we cap, then we (the people and our elected representatives) decide how much carbon fits under the cap and the market determines the price. This allows us to set goals for carbon reduction based on our understanding of the relevant science.

        If we tax, then we decide the price of carbon and the market determines how much is emitted. The price required to meet our goals depends on some things we don’t know right now, and will change in the future. If there’s one thing legislatures are worse at than setting prices effectively, it’s keeping the prices up to date (compare per-gallon gas taxes and how poorly they’ve dealt with inflation — this sort of tax might have similar problems).

        That said, I’m going to vote for this. It’s not very likely to pass, so even if a carbon tax has problems as a workable policy, the point will be to light a fire under the asses of Inslee and the various consensus-oriented types. And if it does pass? The real work on climate change will have to be worked out internationally, and this little experiment won’t interfere with that (which will almost certainly look more like cap-and-trade than revenue-neutral taxes). It might provide interesting study material for economists.

      2. Al: de facto, both cap-and-trade and a carbon tax involve the legislature setting the price per ton. In cap-and-trade, at least in the California implementation, there’s a minimum price, currently about $12/t.

        The reason this is so is that a pure cap-and-trade system as you describe would involve the legislature setting an explicit goal for GHG emissions reduction. This would force it to either set a real goal, i.e. nearly 100% reduction by 2050, which would raise the ire of various business groups that would be forced to pay the high resulting fees; or set a goal that the local businesses wouldn’t mind, which would force it to admit that no, there are no plans for substantial GHG reductions, only feel-good crap like Obama’s 17% goal.

        A carbon tax lets countries and subnational entities get away with a minor fee, such as $25 or $40 per t-CO2, without explicitly admitting that they’re doing nothing. In fact, if you base your science on climate damage estimates from low-counters like Nordhaus, $40/t is enough! (If you base your science on more modern estimates of climate damages and look at high-counters like Stern, make it $400/t.) Cap-and-trade reduces to this system in recent practice – they can’t set a low enough cap that the fee will be higher, whereas if there’s no minimum price, you get the failure of the EU emissions trading market, which offered too many permits.

    2. Inslee has no plan on the table. He withdrew it because it was a nonstarter in the legislative process. In this discussion it is a red herring.

      A revenue neutral tax has a chance of succeeding. In the current and foreseeable political environment, a tax or cap and trade plan that increases revenue and uses the increase for (other) progressive purposes will be seen as a tax increase and has much less chance.

      Those who actually want success on carbon will not insist on tying other agendas to carbon proposals. Those who DO so insist are indeed willing to sacrifice progress on carbon for those other agendas. And what they can so achieve is NOT actual legislation but rather a louder voice.

    3. Carbon WA may have started collecting signatures earlier, but the first I encountered their signature-gatherers was when the governor’s initiative was definitively failing. It didn’t look like “Let’s supercede what the state might do” but “If the legislature won’t act, the people will.”

      1. We spoke with someone from Carbon WA around the time Inslee was elected. At that time there was also vague talk of some other tax/trade plan. An alternate plan still doesnt actually exist.

        “Which came first” a red herring. Carbon WA will be on the ballot next year and we should argue it based on it merits.

        It’s merits are many and any environmental group that stands in opposition to its obvious carbon reduction impacts does so to the detriment of their own credibility.

    4. “I-732, which is fatally flawed from both a policy and political perspective.”

      Yet another bloviation ex cathedra with no support, just assertion. If you want long-term reduction in Carbon emissions which cannot be gamed by political connections and contributions, a straightforward tax on Carbon is the way to get it. “Cap and Trade” inevitably is corrupted by favored “essential” industries.

      Making such a tax revenue neutral makes it more progressive than spreading the funds around within the government to the favorite hobby-horses of well-connected organizations. The rich buy many more things which are Carbon intensive — trips to New Zealand and Europe, high performance automobiles, large expensive-to-heat-and-cool homes — than do poor people. Nearly all the electricity used in Seattle is from non-Carbon sources, and when “The Beast” is finished through Vancouver so that the wind farms in the Columbia River Gorge can run full-time, the same will be true throughout Puget Sound.

      In short, the necessary uses of Carbon in Western Washington are shrinking already. The impacts on poorer people of such a tax will not be severe.

      1. ‘when “The Beast” is finished through Vancouver so that the wind farms in the Columbia River Gorge can run full-time, the same will be true throughout Puget Sound’

        the Beast? Is that a power transmission line or something?

  14. There is a perception issue amongst voters given that there is the promise of a sales tax decrease which many including myself do not believe would happen. What would prevent the legislature from increasing the sales tax back up or local jurisdictions from doing something similar? Perception is this will pass and be an overall increase in taxes somehow.

    I do think there will be pain at first and then it goes away. Liquor for example depending on what you are buying can sometimes cost less than when it was run under the state system (but still more than other states).

    Also if BC is any lesson, I would rather see revenues go toward something of a carbon reducing nature such as more funding for mass transit and items that actually contribute to reduced carbon rather than credits. Credits have the value of indulgences in my personal opinion.

    1. This legislature went through coniptions to avoid raising taxes even for constitutionally-mandated things like education. So they don’t raise taxes easily. If they did, we’d have a better transit network. This initiative affects the state’s portion of the sales tax, or the base level. The cities’ and counties’ portion are separate on top of that, and they’re limited by state-imposed maximums.

    2. Well, in British Columbia the carbon tax revenue went toward offsetting other taxes. Lower taxes on non-polluting businesses have helped promote economic growth, and the new development is often next to SkyTrain since Metro Vancouver has successfully zoned for TOD near Expo Line stations. The high economic growth rate of British Columbia since it instituted its carbon tax is now a standard talking point against “ZOMG IF I HAEV TO PYA MOAR FOR GSA FOR MY SUV THE SKYE WILL FLAL WAEK UP SHEEPLE TRAMP/CRSAON 2610”-type arguments.

      BC’s transit program gets bad rap among Americans because of the failed referendum – never mind that the referendum was up in the polls until the Compass Card disaster exploded. But in reality, BC is far ahead of anywhere in the US. In the last thirty-five years, it took a city with postwar population growth rates similar to those of the US Sunbelt and turned it into something like a transit city. Metro Vancouver’s transit mode share was 19.7% in 2011, and Canada Line ridership has gone up since; in the US, the highest metro area share is in New York (30%), followed by Washington (15% and trending down because of Metro’s implosion). US urbanists and transit activists should look at Metrotown – and Main Street-Science World, and New West, and even Surrey Central – and ask themselves, “okay, how do we get that here?”.

      1. I agree. There is so much that Vancouver does right that we should try to mimic them (especially their transit system). The success of the tax proposal for the province has also been very successful, and is a model for this state, if not the world.

        By the way, do you have a reference for the transit mode share. That matches an article I read (https://www.biv.com/article/2014/12/theres-far-more-good-news-bad-translink-numbers/) in that Vancouver is third in North America (after New York and Toronto) but I just wanted to know if you had another source.

        By the way, the referendum failure is interesting. I remember someone mentioning that unlike here, folks in BC rarely get to vote on a tax measure. This means that it is harder to pass them. I could be wrong about that, but if so, it means they don’t have to vote all the time on school levies, for example (and something like Seattle’s proposition one would simply be implemented). I think that and the implementation screw ups have a lot to do with the failed vote. But I also think there is another thing, which is that right now, it works pretty well. Obviously it would work better with the expansion, but it is (as we know) quite successful. Votes like that can fail for opposite reasons — one, because people think that you’ve wasted the money in the past — the other because the system right now is “good enough”. I think voters felt like the folks in charge were screw ups, at the same time they felt no pressing need to add service. A bad combination, to be sure.

      2. The 19.7% figure is from the census. In Canada, Vancouver is behind Toronto, Montreal, and (barely) Ottawa.

        As for the failed vote, the thing to note is that people in Vancouver do not perceive Translink as competent or successful. Buses often show up late, and people get pissed. They’re better than in the US, but Canadians don’t really think “better than the States” is enough. The rollout of Compass and the SkyTrain faregates was delayed and then completely botched; during the referendum campaign, a large fraction of No voters cited Translink as the reason they were voting No. Midway through the campaign they had to replace Translink’s general manager just as damage control.

        People do not perceive the system as good enough at all. Vancouver proper recognizes the importance of the Broadway SkyTrain extension and there seems to be widespread support for it, but the referendum wasn’t even on the full budget for the extension; matching funds would be required. Even though the federal government promised matching funds contingent on the referendum passing, opponents made spurious arguments that the money would be neither necessary nor sufficient for the Broadway subway.

      3. I don’t mean to imply that many Vancouver residents think that light rail is done there — that they should never invest in improvements to the system. But my point is that voters in Vancouver felt that the system was at least “good enough” right now to warrant voting against a proposal that they otherwise felt was a wise investment. They did so for the reasons you mentioned — they are unhappy with operations and the organization(s) that manage transit. Fair enough. But this was, at best, a symbolic vote. At worst, it was a wasted vote. After all, it isn’t clear that the agency “got the message” any more after the vote than before. As you mentioned, the G. M. quit before the election. It is pretty easy to argue that voting no was a complete waste. For a lot of people to waste their vote when the alternative is something that they otherwise feel is a good project suggests to me that while they want more, the current system is not that bad.

        I think it is interesting to contrast this vote with the vote on Metro bus funding. In both cases, you had a fairly sharp divide between urban and suburban voters. But in the case of Vancouver, even the urban areas voted against it (although just barely). The divide in general is smaller. In both cases, I think there is wide spread unhappiness with the way the transit program is run. But in the case of Seattle, enough people are willing to put aside their hatred of Metro and vote for additional funding in Seattle. The folks in Seattle, basically were saying “Metro sucks, but give us more buses, we need them desperately”. Vancouver voters obviously didn’t feel that way.

        But I think the biggest contrast between Vancouver and Seattle is our light rail lines. It is pretty obvious by looking at a complete transit map of Vancouver (and seeing statistics like the one you cited) that the light rail line works really well for Vancouver. In short, their planning department does an outstanding job. But their operations suck. I think Sound Transit is the opposite. Our planning is terrible, but operations are just fine. It will be interesting to see how that translates at the ballot box.

    1. Want A LOT of people to stop eating meat (or other carbon-intensive-agriculture products)? Start pricing the carbon intensity. When we stop making this a matter of personal virtue and start making a matter of paying for what we actually consume and impact, mass behavior will change.

      By the way, the Scientific American reference is to a 2009 piece behind a paywall. This Wikipedia article is free, more recent, and more, well, encyclopedic.
      Quoting from that article:
      “the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has estimated that agriculture accounted for about 10 to 12 percent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (expressed as 100-year carbon dioxide equivalents) in 2005[36] and in 2010.[37] Livestock production would account for some fraction of agriculture’s 10 to 12 percent, and meat production would account for some fraction of the figure assignable to livestock.”

      Meatless diets would help but are far from a panacea.

      1. Yep. As soon as it’s priced properly, behavior will change.

        The problem is basically that there are large vested interests who don’t WANT carbon emissions to be priced properly.

        Put enough of a tax on burning gas for heat, people switch to electric heat (powered by solar, wind, and hydro, naturally).

  15. Dark little secret of old school “progressives” in this town: they love their cars more than even the most dedicated Issaquah soccer mom.

    Remember Senator Hasegawa and Rep. Jaypal’s attempt to maintain as much “free” parking as possible around Link stations?

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