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Washington State’s Machinists take position opposing CarbonWA’s I-732

A couple weeks ago, our President, Robert Cruickshank, wrote a lengthy blog post explaining why NPI cannot support CarbonWA’s I-732, a statewide initiative sponsored by economist Yoram Bauman that attempts to create a new tax on carbon dioxide emissions and use the revenue to lower other taxes.

This past weekend, the Washington Council of Machinists, which represents fifty thousand aerospace workers in the Evergreen State, also came to the conclusion that I-732 is fatally flawed, for many of the same reasons. They voted to adopt the following resolution in opposition to CarbonWA’s I-732:

WHEREAS Initiative 732 is a ballot measure creating a new tax on carbon that purports to be a “revenue neutral” by lowering other taxes; and

WHEREAS I-732’s approach – which is intended to appeal to conservatives – ignores the fact that simply making it more expensive to pollute will not magically build the infrastructure necessary to convert to a clean-energy economy that allows people to live more sustainably; and

WHEREAS I-732 ignores the revenue crisis the State of Washington with chronic underfunding of public schools, universities, transportation and other critical services that citizens want and need to maintain our quality of life; and

WHEREAS I-732 ignores the disproportionate negative consequences of climate change on communities of color and low-income communities; and

WHEREAS polls already show that I-732 is doomed to failure if it reaches the ballot; and

WHEREAS I-732 sponsor and Carbon Washington founder Yoram Bauman engages in divisive partisan rhetoric, recently telling The New York Times, “I am increasingly convinced that the path to climate action is through the Republican Party… The Left (has) an unyielding desire to tie everything to bigger government and a willingness to use race and class as political weapons to pursue that desire;” and

WHEREAS the urgency of climate change – as Washington is already experiencing the devastating impacts through wildfires and droughts – demands unity and collaboration, not the partisan bickering associated with I-732; and

WHEREAS the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, a broad coalition that brings together organized labor, environmental and business interests, community groups and other constituencies, opposes I-732. Instead, the Alliance is supporting solutions that – unlike I-732 — recognize:

  1. The cost of carbon emissions to our economy and communities, particular communities of color and those with low incomes that are currently disproportionately harmed by pollution,
  2. The need for a “Just Transition” to a clean economy that protects working families whose livelihoods depend on the fossil-fuel and carbon-producing industries, and
  3. The importance of creating good family-wage jobs in the new clean-energy economy.

WHEREAS the Alliance is on the cusp of deciding whether to introduce its own ballot measure in 2016 that addresses climate change and carbon reduction in a way that acknowledges and addresses the above-mentioned concerns;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Washington Machinists Council go on record as formally opposing Initiative 732, and will communicate that opposition to all of its members.

We are among those members of the Alliance who strongly favor committing to the development of a cap-and-trade based initiative, which would be finalized in January or February of next year as an initiative to the people for 2016.

If the initiative were filed in early January, as soon as the filing period opens, it could be finalized within the span of a few weeks, allowing signature gathering to begin in the wintertime and continuing through the Fourth of July weekend.

(Conveniently, the deadline to submit petitions for initiatives to the people falls on an unusually late date next year… July 8th, 2016.)

It makes sense for the Alliance to put a refined version of the plan offered by Governor Jay Inslee on the ballot for 2016. We know Senate Republicans aren’t going to suddenly come around and provide the votes to pass a bill in the Legislature. At least through 2016, they have control of the Senate.

For legislative action to be possible in 2017, Democrats would have to win majorities in both houses of the Legislature, which won’t be easy.

Republicans have all but given up on seriously contesting Washington’s statewide elected positions, and are focusing on legislative races.

Since 2006, they’ve whittled the Democratic majority in the House down to two seats, and taken over the Senate thanks to ex-Democrats Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, who crossed over in order to seize power.

The prudent course of action for the Alliance is thus to go to the ballot in 2016.

Next year is a presidential election year; the electorate will be larger and more progressive than it has been since 2012, or will be again until 2020. It is the perfect time to give the people of Washington State the chance to vote on a sound approach to fighting the climate crisis.

More than a century ago, progressives created the initiative process to allow the people to propose laws directly. The initiative process provides a way for the people to bypass a gridlocked Legislature. And right now, due to the Senate being controlled by Republicans, we have a gridlocked Legislature.

Last year, Democrats made recapturing the Senate their top priority in the 2014 midterms. It didn’t happen, and as a consequence, Governor Jay Inslee will have been deprived of a cooperative Legislature for the entirety of his first term.

There is simply no guarantee that Inslee will be reelected next year with friendly Democratic majorities in both houses. Even if it does happen, there’s still no guarantee there would be fifty votes in the House and twenty-five in the Senate for a strong bill. The soonest that legislative action to address the climate crisis could conceivably happen is in the spring of 2017… and that’s if the stars align, a big if.

On the other hand, if the Alliance qualifies an initiative to the ballot for 2016 and it passes, it would take effect in December of 2016. The Legislature would not be able to overturn it or amend it for two years without a two-thirds vote. In the event Democrats do have a good 2016, they could spend the 2017 session working on follow-up legislation, buoyed by the momentum created by the people’s action.

There is always risk involved in going to the ballot. Initiative campaigns require significant investments of time, talent, and treasure. Success is not guaranteed.

But there’s no reward without risk.

I-732’s backers took a risk. They are passionate and action-oriented, which always counts for something, but unfortunately, the proposal they’ve committed themselves to is fatally flawed. Their campaign is partly based on the premise that I-732 is an initiative that can appeal to conservative voters. But research conducted by the Alliance shows conservative voters are opposed to I-732. Meanwhile, I-732’s backers have managed to alienate progressives with comments like these:

“I am increasingly convinced that the path to climate action is through the Republican Party… The Left (has) an unyielding desire to tie everything to bigger government and a willingness to use race and class as political weapons to pursue that desire.”

I-732 sponsor Yoram Bauman, speaking to The New York Times

In football/soccer terminology, these comments (and CarbonWA’s political strategy) amount to an own goal… which is hardly helpful.

Washington’s progressive movement needs a pollution accountability initiative it can unite around, drafted using an open source style development model, so that the initiative can be refined and polished prior to being finalized.

We believe we can’t afford to wait to combat our worsening pollution problems. And given that I-732 is fatally flawed, it’s an exercise in futility. That’s why we urge the Alliance to commit itself to a 2016 initiative campaign without delay.