Experts debate carbon emissions tax initiative

Each member of a panel of experts hosted by the Foley Institute on Thursday agreed that something must be done about climate change, though they had conflicting opinions on the carbon emissions tax initiative.

I-732 would set a tax on carbon consumption from sources like fuel and electricity, beginning at $15 per metric ton of CO2 on July 1, 2017, and increasing to $25 per metric ton the following year. The revenue from this tax would be used to replace revenue from the state sales tax, which would be lowered by one percent over a two-year period.

Yoram Bauman, stand-up comedian and economist and founder of Yes on I-732, argued that the initiative is the only one that deals with climate change on the ballot this year, and because of this it is the best way to handle carbon emissions.

“The carbon tax in 732 will provide a financial incentive for individuals, households, business, utilities, to move their operations in a more sustainable direction,” Bauman said.

With this initiative, he said most households would pay a few hundred dollars more for fossil fuels, but a few hundred dollars less for everything they would otherwise pay higher sales tax on.

“That is how we are going to do our part to save the world,” Bauman said.

I-732 would also reduce business taxes for manufacturers to help them maintain competitiveness, and the revenue raised would go toward funding for the Working Families Tax Rebate.

The Working Families Tax Rebate is a state-level match, where low-income families receive a check from the federal government matching 10 percent of their earned income. This program was passed in 2008 but has never received funding. I-732 would provide that funding with the revenue raised from the carbon tax.

Jeffrey Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council and representative for the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, agreed with the need to take action on climate change, but disagreed with I-732 being the way to accomplish this.

Johnson said putting a price on carbon emissions is not enough; the revenue needs to be put back into reducing carbon emissions further. He said we need to have positive revenue and invest it in driving carbon emissions down more quickly to create a more energy-efficient society.

Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) questioned the purpose of the initiative, as he said Washington state has one of the highest fuel taxes already.

“We’re one of the lowest carbon-producing states in the country,” Ericksen said. “We have hydropower and nuclear power.”

He said this initiative, while crafted to be as tax-neutral as possible, is not guaranteed to cause any significant changes in carbon emissions and could actually cause an economic disruption that could move production out of state.

Bauman acknowledged that I-732 is not a perfect solution for climate change; however, he noted that it is the only one currently up for vote.

“We can’t solve this problem in Washington state,” he said, “what we can do is be an example for nation and for the world for smart climate policy.”