Why I decline to sign CarbonWA's I-732
Why I decline to sign 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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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