Nation’s First Carbon Tax on Washington Ballot

No state in this country has a tax on carbon emissions. That might change in November if Washington state voters approve Initiative 732, a ballot measure that would establish a carbon emission tax on certain fossil fuels, reduce the state sales tax by one percentage point, increase a low-income exemption and reduce certain manufacturing taxes.


CECI ESTELA • THE SPECTATOR
CECI ESTELA • THE SPECTATOR

While proponents of this initiative outnumber opponents five to one, strong opposition came from an unlikely source. The Sierra Club and the Washington Environmental Council—two of the state’s foremost environmental advocacy groups—believe the initiative takes the wrong approach and will damage state revenue. Governor Jay Inslee’s proposal last year to cap emissions and fine heavy carbon polluters would have raised money for education, clean energy, transportation and programs to support vulnerable communities affected by climate change, according to critics.

Wes Lauer, civil and environmental engineering professor, plans on voting “Yes” for I-732. He believes it will create an incentive for businesses to develop technologies that don’t use fossil fuels.

“Global climate change is primarily influenced by the use of fossil fuels,” he said. “Right now we don’t have a price on carbon at all, so putting a price on carbon is one of the most important things that can be done.”

Some members of the Sierra Club believe the initiative doesn’t represent an equitable climate policy while other members are working tirelessly to see it passed. The club is officially taking a position against the measure because communities of color and low-income people aren’t at the forefront of the discussion to mitigate the impact of climate change and policy, and because of concerns about I-732’s revenue projections.

Lauer believes a price on carbon is one of the only ways to mitigate the effects of climate change, and that this initiative is only a starting point.

“You have to set a framework in place, and then you can modify that framework over time,” he said.

Carbon Washington, the organization leading the campaign in support of the carbon tax, has helped raise more than $1.2 million in contributions as of Oct. 5 this year. Groups opposing the tax have raised over $300,000. Polls indicate that support and opposition is roughly the same, despite big differences in funding, with 38 percent voting “Yes” and 37 voting “No”, while 25 percent remain undecided.

The carbon tax—modeled after a similar tax in British Columbia passed in 2008—would start at $15 per metric ton of emissions in July 2017, go up to $25 the next year, then 3.5 percent plus inflation each year until it reaches $100 per metric ton. The tax would be implemented more gradually for farmers and nonprofit transportation providers, according to Ballotpedia.com.

Economics professor Gareth Green also plans on voting “Yes” for I-732 because it reduces taxes on things we like and raises taxes on things we don’t. He believes the Sierra Club is going to have a hard time passing what they consider a “perfect” carbon tax.

“If you start with a policy that has a dramatic change, it’s harder to get passed. We should start with a policy that’s less stringent,” he said. “It’s important that we do something.”

According to the fiscal impact statement, during the first six fiscal years, state General Fund revenue would decrease by $797.2 million as a direct result of the carbon tax. Sales tax revenue for the state Performance Audits of Government Account decreased by $8.9 million. Local tax revenue would increase by $156.1 million and state expenditures would increase by $37.4 million.

The tax, by offsetting other sources of revenue like the sales tax, would be revenue-neutral so that taxpayers don’t pay more than they do now. State sales tax would be lowered from 6.5 to 5.5 percent, the Working Families Tax Credit for low-income families would increase and business and occupation tax rates would decrease from 0.484 to 0.001 percent. These changes would maintain the state revenue as it was and incentivize families to reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite his support for the initiative, Green insisted that it’s not enough in the grand scheme of things.

“This is not going to solve climate change,” he said. “If we pass this and think we’ve done our bit,
we’re fooling ourselves.”

Editor may be reached at
news@su-spectator.com

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  • Mariana B

    Right now, polluters are putting pollution into our air, and are not paying for it. This carbon tax would make them pay for that pollution, and then rebate all of that revenue back into the state. It changes how our economy relies fossil fuels. It also changes our regressive state tax code into one of the most progressive by funding a rebate for low-income households and lowering our regressive sales tax. We need structural change now! vote yes!

  • Ali

    We have an urgent responsibility to protect our environment from the worst impacts of climate change. I-732 does that and more, putting a price on carbon for high-level polluters and returning that money to tax payers so as to reverse the most regressive tax state in the nation. An easy YES!

  • Sarah

    I-732 hits two birds with one stone: it fights climate change and makes Washington’s incredibly regressive tax system fairer. We can’t expect to solve all the problems in the world with a single policy, we have to just keep making steps in the right direction. I-732 is one giant step that finally makes polluting expensive and makes clean energy more desirable.

  • Linda

    I-732 is our best chance to get Washington state and the rest of the country started on the path to climate action before it’s too late. In order to secure the future for our grandchildren, we must make urgent changes in how we view climate change. I-732 offers an ambitious solution to the climate crisis that not only helps the environment, but also, helps low-income families. Also, this model is prove to be successful due to the positive reactions and outcomes it has had in the British Columbia.

  • alice

    It’s awesome to see I-732 actually coming to the table in Washington, and I know I really want this initiative to pass. The Stranger just endorsed it, which is really exciting news! I know as a young person, I’ve looked to their opinions and research on issues that feel complicated. Climate change is an issue that we have to look at today, now really, because the transitions we need to make and the damage that is already being done are really immense! I want to see I-732 policy in Olympia so we can be leaders in this time. The affects of this policy will take time, and we need more policy to join I-732 in bringing about an end to climate change. We must address this issue now to benefit our collective future.

  • Sydney

    Initiative 732 is the most effective way to start fighting climate change in a sustainable, equitable way. We millennials and future generations are the ones who will live to see the full effects of climate change, and we have the power to take action now by voting yes on I-732!

  • Genna

    This initiative sounds amazing! Go WA fighting for the world!!

  • Karissa Jones

    This is a great initiative, I fully support I-732! We live in such an important time, we can still combat climate change but we have to act now. This is a great way to do that, put a price on pollution and make clean energy more competitive. A carbon tax has worked to cut emissions in British Columbia, now it’s our turn. Let’s get I-732 passed, Washington!!

  • Cooper Cearns

    I-732 will get the ball rolling on climate change and serves as a model for bipartisan climate policy that can be mirrored by other states around the country. Please VOTE YES!

  • Glorious Porpoise

    I fully support this. I believe that we have a moral obligation to help the environment, and this initiative is going to be the one to do it.