Rep. Pattie McCoy is the Vermont House Minority Leader, and represents the towns of Poultney and Ira in the Vermont House of Representatives. She serves on the Vermont House Committee on Transportation.
As the beginning of the 2020 legislative session approaches, Vermonters should be aware that a carbon tax is being revived–again. This isn’t hype or hysteria about the prospect of something that may be proposed. Rather, this is actively being pushed and pursued by Vermont elected officials and interest groups under the guise of a “fee” or “surcharge”.
In October, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger proposed a sliding-scale statewide carbon fee. The proposed fee starts off as a roughly 30-cent per gallon tax, and reaches up to a $1.70 per gallon tax on motor and heating oil. This size of this carbon tax would grow from $200 million to an astonishing $1 billion, potentially reducing our Vermont’s GDP by 1 percent. It would hurt the most vulnerable Vermonters: those living in rural communities without access to public transportation, those unable to afford to switch to higher-cost electric vehicles, and those commuting long distances to their jobs.
Unfortunately, this carbon tax proposal–and others like it–are likely to be met with support by many lawmakers in Montpelier this session. Last year, we saw two seperate pieces of legislation (H.463 and H.477) introduced that would’ve imposed a carbon tax. Additionally, the democratically-controlled House of Representatives voted to double the tax on home heating fuels, hurting those who struggle to keep their homes warm in the winter. Every single Republican legislator voted against this bill; however, that wasn’t enough to prevent it from passing the House. Thankfully, Senate leadership stopped it. However, these pieces of legislation show the appetite in Montpelier to pass these types of taxes and fees is very real.
Let me be clear: Vermont Republican lawmakers support efforts to reduce our carbon emissions, mitigate climate change, and make a cleaner state for future generations. But we need to pursue these goals through policies that don’t leave our most vulnerable populations behind. That’s why we supported (and the Legislature passed) a $2 million incentive to help low-income Vermonters purchase electric vehicles; an expansion of the State’s electric vehicle fleet; a $200,000 incentive boost to help Vermonters switch to more energy-efficient woodstoves; an upgrade of Vermont’s energy efficiency standards; and improved incentives and flexibility to invest in alternative energy generation. And there’s more we can do, such as Governor Scott’s 2017 proposal to create a sales tax holiday for purchases of electric vehicles and energy efficient products. Unfortunately, legislative leadership chose not to advance this proposal.
We can’t achieve our climate goals by making Vermont even less affordable for our most vulnerable populations. That’s precisely what a carbon tax or fee would do. We need more “carrots” or incentives that work, and fewer “sticks” or taxes that add to the cost of living. That’s why Vermont Republican legislators will stand united this legislative session in opposing any carbon tax or fee proposal.
We can address our shared challenges and goals in an economically sustainable way–without leaving certain Vermonters behind. In fact, our economy and environment are inherently linked. Vermont legislative Republicans are ready and willing to make our state cleaner while growing our economy and without hurting those just struggling to get by. Let’s work together to get it done.