Yesterday, during the middle day of its 2016 winter meeting, the Washington State Democratic Party went on record as opposed to CarbonWA’s I-732, joining the Washington State Labor Council and IAM’s District Lodge 751 in the no camp. I-732 is a complex tax swap proposal that would levy a carbon tax while also reducing sales and business & occupation taxes.
CarbonWA and other I-732 proponents contend that their tax swap is “revenue neutral” (meaning it would not increase or decrease state revenue). Nonpartisan legislative staff and the Department of Revenue don’t agree. According to DOR’s calculations, I-732 would reduce revenue by nearly $1 billion over the next four years. (That’s billion, with a b.) CarbonWA insists DOR’s analysis is erroneous, and that the initiative would ultimately be “approximately revenue neutral“.
But the Washington State Democratic Party has decided it doesn’t want to take a chance on I-732 and has formally come out against the measure.
The party’s State Central Committee, the WSDCC, considered dueling resolutions on the initiative this weekend. One was to take a position in support of I-732, and the other was to take a position in opposition. The latter received a “do pass” recommendation from the WSDCC’s Resolutions Committee and was subsequently adopted, while the former got a “no pass” recommendation and was rejected.
The WSDCC’s Resolutions Committee has the unenviable task of vetting and wordsmithing resolutions that go before the full Central Committee at its five regular meetings during each two-year cycle. (Full disclosure: I sit on the WSDCC as a voting member, but I am not on the WSDCC’s Resolutions Committee.)
The Committee heard from speakers in support of and opposition to I-732 prior to reaching its decision. In the end, the committee voted overwhelmingly for the resolution to take a position opposing I-732, a recommendation that was enthusiastically adopted by the full WSDCC a few hours later.
The Therefore, be it resolved clauses of the resolution state:
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Washington State Democratic Party go on record opposing I-732, and […] in support of a comprehensive policy to reduce carbon emissions and GHGs that creates a descending cap on emissions, prices carbon with the flexibility needed to prevent companies from wholesale leaving the state while at the same time helping them to become as carbon efficient as possible, provides equity to fossil fuel workers and communities of color, invests in climate adaptation and mitigation and leverages an accelerated development of the new clean energy economy; and
THEREFORE, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the State Democratic Party will work with labor, environment, communities of color, faith, public health and progressive business organizations to educate and organize around a comprehensive carbon and GHG reduction policy that can be introduced to the state legislature or to the ballot at the earliest possible opportunity.
We have outlined our own objections to I-732 here on the Cascadia Advocate on a number of occasions, notably last September, when we published this post by our President, Robert Cruickshank. We felt I-732 was fatally flawed even before the state published its analysis concluding that I-732 was actually revenue negative.
Whether the initiative is revenue negative or not, we think it’s poorly written. We do appreciate that proponents of I-732 are well-intentioned people who want to take action to address the climate crisis. However, we cannot support their approach.
Perplexingly, CarbonWA continues to try to sell I-732 to people by talking about following the “lead” of British Columbia, which is currently governed by one of the biggest groups of greenwashers in history: Christy Clark’s B.C. Liberals, who seemingly haven’t met a pipeline or fossil fuel terminal project they didn’t like.
British Columbia adopted a carbon tax years ago, but it has not been successful in keeping the province’s emissions in check.
Leaders of CarbonWA have described support for their initiative as “bipartisan” and have said they crafted the initiative to appeal to voters across the ideological spectrum, but CarbonWA’s endorsements page doesn’t list a single organization affiliated with the Republican Party or active in the conservative movement.
And, as even CarbonWA has admitted, polling suggests right-leaning voters in Washington are incredibly hostile to the idea of levying a carbon tax.
To have even a prayer of winning, CarbonWA would need progressives and Democrats everywhere to unite behind I-732. But that is not happening, partly because CarbonWA’s proposal is poorly written, and partly because CarbonWA has been needlessly alienating progressives with ridiculous commentary like this:
[Yoram Bauman] is an environmental economist and stand-up comedian (yes, an unusual combo). He is also one of the leaders of the effort in Washington State to pass a carbon tax. He has been working tirelessly to build support.
Based on his experiences, he has a message for environmental activists: “I am increasingly convinced that the path to climate action is through the Republican Party. Yes, there are challenges on the right — skepticism about climate science and about tax reform — but those are surmountable with time and effort. The same cannot be said of the challenges on the left: an unyielding desire to tie everything to bigger government, and a willingness to use race and class as political weapons in order to pursue that desire.”
Yoram Bauman is a funny guy, but this time he is not joking.
If you’re wondering how CarbonWA’s efforts to reach out to Republicans are going, the answer is not well. As I mentioned already, they haven’t scored any endorsements from groups on the right. Republican legislators, meanwhile, have been openly disdainful of I-732 when asked about it by the press.
Doug Ericksen, who is a very good friend of Tim Eyman and all the oil companies operating in the state, trashes I-732 every chance he gets. For instance, here’s a KING5 story from last month about CarbonWA’s submission of signatures:
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, considers the initiative an energy tax instead of a carbon tax.
Ericksen chairs the Senate’s energy committee.
He said the move would cause higher home heating bills and gas prices.
Bauman did his cause no favors when he agreed with Ericksen that gas prices would go up — even volunteering a figure! Here’s the next two lines of the story:
Bauman said the initiative could end up raising gas prices 25 cents a gallon.
Ericksen also thinks the initiative could end up hurting the environment by encouraging Washington businesses to relocate overseas in search of less restrictive pollution laws.
Yoram Bauman’s co-chair Joe Ryan, meanwhile, was recently quoted in a Washington State Wire profile saying that carbon taxes are regressive.
And no, I’m not making this up.
For Ryan, the middle-of the-road approach is the best way forward. His political ethos is a true rarity and one that he is eager to share. “I believe, and what I see in the world, is that people of diverse ideologies have truth to contribute. To exclude or scapegoat or demonize, frame them as scapegoats or enemies, you’re really losing part of the truth. And so it’s important to get the full truth,” he said.
Perhaps it’s his dedication to finding the whole truth that allows him to be so candid about some of the potential realities of a carbon tax often avoided by proponents of pricing carbon. Looking heavy-hearted, he admitted that there will likely be job losses in certain industries, coupled with gains in others. Without hesitation, he also said this: “Carbon taxes are regressive in terms of disproportionately impacting low income people. Our state tax system is already regressive so to make it more regressive is a concern for Carbon WA.” Lowering the sales tax, he says, reduces the overall regressiveness of Washington’s tax code.
Emphasis is mine.
If Ryan believes carbon taxes are regressive, why is he working to pass I-732? Why aren’t he and CarbonWA pushing for a cap and trade system instead?
Other states, like California, have already gone in that direction. And Washington voters are certainly open to the idea as well, as was evident from our research last year, when we asked the following question in a statewide poll:
Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose implementing a cap-and-trade system, where polluters would be charged a fee to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that would fund public schools and transportation projects?
These were the answers:
- Support: 55%
- 37% “strongly support” cap and trade
- 18% “somewhat support” cap and trade
- Oppose: 43%
- 11% “somewhat oppose” cap and trade
- 32% “strongly oppose” cap and trade
- 2% answered “not sure”
This question was part of a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling for NPI from September 18th to 21st, 2015, and surveyed 613 Washington voters likely to cast ballots in the November 2015 general election. The results have a margin of sampling error of +/- 4.0% at the 95% confidence level.
As this was a poll of likely 2015 voters, we believe it actually understated the true level of support for cap and trade among this year’s electorate, which is projected to be substantially larger than last year’s.
(2015 saw the worst voter turnout in Washington State history — at least since we began registering voters in the 1930s.)
Now, CarbonWA likes to tout this survey from G Squared Strategies, which in late 2014 asked four hundred likely voters (which I’ll point out is a smaller sample size than our poll from last year) the following question:
Would you favor or oppose the State of Washington imposing a carbon tax on carbon producing businesses if it also lowered the state sales tax by 1% and eliminated the current business and occupation taxes on Washington’s businesses, causing the new carbon tax to be revenue neutral?”
53.7% of respondents in that survey answered that they would be in favor, while 32.6% said they would be opposed. The poll had a margin of error of +/- 4.9%.
Those percentages aren’t terrible, but what are terrible are the percentages that come back when the actual I-732 ballot title has been tested. This is the question voters will see on their ballots starting in October:
Initiative Measure No. 732 concerns taxes.
This measure would impose a carbon emission tax on certain fossil fuels and fossil-fuel-generated electricity, reduce the sales tax by one percentage point and increase a low-income exemption, and reduce certain manufacturing taxes.
Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]
Polling by the Alliance for Jobs & Clean Energy has found the response in favor of the I-732 ballot title to be just 39% — well under fifty percent. Yikes! The ballot title hasn’t performed much better in CarbonWA’s polling.
Keep in mind, this is where things stand for I-732 before the impact of the inevitable, well-funded No campaign.
Having worked for and against statewide initiatives for over a decade, we know a bad ballot title can be a major Achilles’ heel, just as a slick ballot title (the kind Tim Eyman always tries to wrangle for his initiatives) can be a big blessing.
CarbonWA claims that I-732 can pass in spite of its bad ballot title. We don’t see how, given that I-732 is so poorly written. The text doesn’t redeem the ballot title. You could argue I-732 deserves the lackluster ballot title that it got.
If that weren’t bad enough, the oil industry now has plenty of material to work with for whatever ads and P.R. it decides to finance. They have co-chair Bauman saying gas prices could rise twenty-five cents a gallon, and co-chair Ryan saying that carbon taxes are regressive and disproportionately impact low income people.
The folks at CarbonWA seem to be still feeling the glow of having qualified (narrowly). They may think they have a winner on their hands with I-732, but they seem to be about the only ones who think that.
Persuading people to sign a petition is one thing. Getting people to vote yes on an initiative is much harder. When in doubt, people usually vote no.
If Bauman and Ryan’s goal is to build a broad coalition to embrace the policy that they and their team have come up with, they’re already failing.