“AirPollutionSource”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

I-732 is a statewide initiative planned for next fall that would impose a statewide carbon tax and use the proceeds to reduce the sales tax by 1 point, essentially eliminate the B&O tax on manufacturing, and provide a tax credit for low-income households. Many liberal groups, including Governor Inslee, would instead like to use the money on climate programs and other political priorities, and are backing an alternative, much less mature, initiative that does that.

If you believe that climate change is an emergency, as I do, you shouldn’t allow your political beliefs about size of government distract you from supporting both initiatives. Neither will solve the world’s problems alone, but every little bit helps: for any amount of warming, a little less warming will have somewhat less dire consequences. It also serves as a model proving that carbon taxes won’t destroy the economy, and collective action always requires contributions that in isolation don’t solve the problem. More to the point of Seattle Transit Blog, taxes on fossil fuels naturally capture their externalities and encourage less energy-intensive modes of living and transport.

I chided progressives for slamming I-732, partly because of the above, and partly because I thought I-732 had a more realistic chance of appealing to the median voter. Perhaps it does, but part of the implied mechanism is that conservative groups would recognize a tax cut when they see it, and the business community would fulfill their fiduciary duty to shareholders rather than express class solidarity with the fossil fuel industry. But (ha ha) of course they didn’t:

Unfortunately, the enthusiasm for bipartisan climate action through a revenue-neutral tax shift is not at the level we had hoped to see after nine months of campaigning:

  • We have tried hard to get support from the business community for I-732, but the reaction so far has been tepid at best: the most common response has been an expression of interest in “further discussions”. Many of these business interests like the various alternative policies even less, but that hasn’t translated into support for I-732 or even support for a commitment to a good-faith discussion in the legislature about carbon pricing.
  • We have tried hard to get support for I-732 from civic groups like the League of Women Voters, from think tanks like Sightline, from advocacy groups like the (left-leaning) Washington Budget and Policy Center and the (right-leaning) Washington Policy Center, and from editorial boards like the Seattle Times. We have had some successes (UU Voices for Justice, Seattle Business magazine, the Olympian, the SpokaneSpokesman-Review), but also many many deferrals.
  • We have tried hard to get support from progressives for I-732, but many of them want to integrate solutions for other very real social problems into climate action. Those solutions require revenue, which has led them to oppose our revenue-neutral policy, despite its clear improvement in the financial situation of low-income families. One Democratic legislator also went so far as to state that his side of the aisle “would oppose I-732 if it was even one dollar revenue-negative”.
  • We have tried very hard to get support from conservatives for I-732, but we don’t have much to show for it despite offering a simple, efficient, market-based, revenue-neutral policy.

In short, the unfortunate truth appears to be that not enough people want to have a serious conversation about bipartisan climate action during the 2016 session.

Even more damning, the polling suggests a revenue-raising approach has more legs:

More recent polling confirms that I-732 starts in a hole (the latest numbers are 44% Yes, 40% No, 16% Undecided), climbs to a peak of about 60% Yes after a simple explanation, and ends up after Pro and Con messages at 48% Yes, 47% No, 5% Undecided. These numbers are much more challenging than you might think, especially because providing voters with a “simple explanation” will be extremely challenging in the midst of a Presidential election year and would require resources well beyond the existing capacity of the campaign.

In contrast, the alternative approach is likely to start out better (57% Yes, 36% No, 7% Undecided), climb to a peak at or above 65% Yes after a simple explanation, and end up after Pro and Con messages at about 53% Yes, 45% No, 8% Undecided. Supporters of the alternative approach believe that the measure can be tweaked to boost these numbers even more, but in any case it is clear that the alternative approach significantly out-polls I-732, especially with voters who are too distracted by the Presidential race and the rest of their lives to pay attention to anything else.

These data points aren’t enough to abandon hope for I-732, and in fact after some soul-searching the I-732 committee decided to more forward without uniting with the alternative group. Good luck to them, and let both groups spend all their time fighting climate deniers and conspiracy theorists, and not each other. It’s hard to be sure which measure is better without a plan in black-and-white from the Alliance, although it’s likely to include things transit advocates will appreciate. A source close to the Alliance says the measure will fund clean energy, clean water, forest health, and transition assistance for impacted workers — all noble causes in principle.

Lend your support to one, or ideally both, efforts here and here.

11 Replies to “I-732 Moving Ahead, Conservatives Passing Up A Good Deal”

  1. I’m with you on both, Martin. But maybe missing this: is their another initiative for your plan now?

    Because I think any move toward the restoration of a manufacturing economy is the necessary first step toward machining where the machinists can breathe the air and drink the water.

    Fifteen dollars an hour won’t give them a change of address out from under a bridge. Right now, best environmental Governmental will be laws to restore decent labor unions. Like the legislation that helped end the Depression just before this last one.

    Not only is above goal not in conflict with fight against environmental damage. It’s life and death necessary. Seattle. San Francisco. Detroit. Stockholm….environmental sentiment coming out rich organic-fed gated communities is dirty-coal’s best friend.

    Mark Dublin

  2. Follow the money. Environmental groups are some of the biggest offenders when it comes to following money and not their own morals.

  3. +1 original post. This is too important for any of us to use as a tool for any other agenda. Just say Yes to both initiatives.

  4. Not just global warming. Carbon dioxide is also causing issues with the seafood industry due to ocean acidification.

  5. Before volunteering for this campaign I never thought that much about the sales tax and I probably would have agreed with the Alliance on a revenue positive approach. Since then I’ve learned more about how uniquely regressive our tax system is in Washington, and am about as concerned with that issue as I am with carbon pricing. I hate that we continue to raise sales tax to pay for things like transit improvements when we know it quite plainly redistributes wealth from the poor to the rich. At this point I will not support any (inherently regressive) carbon tax without an equal amount of sales tax relief.

    1. Any reason not to support a graduated income tax? Also curious how fervently this State’s voters have always opposed this one. If substituted for present tax structure, wouldn’t the income tax be less regressive?

      Also: that the huge amount in tax breaks went to many smaller companies local companies? Would definitely free the whole State from catching pneumonia when a company, or an industry, sneezes.

      It’s not just the money. Can the people of States or anyplace else ever be free when one private entity calls so many of the shots?

      Mark Dublin

  6. Yoram Bauman is making the same points that I and many others made about the shortcomings of I-732. It will not pass.

    Voters are not actually interested in “revenue-neutral” policies. Voters are willing to raise their own taxes, but they want to believe that they’re buying something useful and worthwhile in return for it. A revenue-positive approach offers tangible benefits for a carbon pricing system, without which it’s not going to be possible to build the necessary amount of public support.

    And that’s good! Revenue-neutral carbon taxes are bad policy. Climate change is a crisis not because we lack a method to price carbon, but because we have spent the last 90 years building a carbon-dependent infrastructure. Merely pricing carbon alone isn’t going to produce the sweeping changes and CO2 reductions that we need to avoid the worst case effects of global warming. We need to rebuild our infrastructure to not be carbon-dependent, and that takes money.

    California has already settled this question: a cap-and-trade system that is designed to produce billions of dollars a year in revenue for green infrastructure is both effective and popular. Washington State is better off designing our own system that can plug into the California-Quebec system, which will soon include some other jurisdictions in North America (such as the province of Ontario, if I remember correctly).

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