Letter: Recent tax reform editorial off base
Editor of the Reformer:
The Reformer's editorial knee-jerk reaction ("Address our fossil fuel dependence, but not on the backs of the poor") to the new Tax Reform & Climate Action proposals announced this week by four Vermont state representatives does more harm than good. It's not off base to have labeled these ideas carbon taxes. Can we, however, now get beyond that and look at the potential benefits of these proposals?
At the same time as they would put additional taxes on fossil fuel consumption, they are also tax reform ideas, tax shift ideas. They will and should be judged on whether they can be implemented in a revenue neutral and fair way by switching the tax burdens from other current, burdensome taxes. In other words, if well enough structured, individuals and households — including poor households — would gain just as much financially as they would lose. This has always been a guiding principle in British Columbia since that Canadian province instituted just such a revenue neutral tax close to 10 years ago.
What's wrong with considering whether households would gain just as much by lower income taxes as they would lose by paying more for heating oil? What's wrong with considering the idea of carbon dividend checks arriving in the mail to make up for money out of pocket for the taxes on carbon? What's wrong with looking at a potential solution to the very high property taxes we have, if it can be shown that homeowners and landlords (the little guy as well as the big guy) will gain just as much as they might lose by paying more for fossil fuels? What's wrong with considering whether businesses and consumers would gain by removing much or all of the sales tax burden in exchange for paying more at the pump?
Additionally, and critically, such taxes would increase the incentives for energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy. This directly confronts the climate change issue, which no other government programs are addressing substantially enough. Those incentives to conserve, to tighten up homes, to choose more efficient vehicles would also continue to drive the energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors of our economy. You know, jobs! Jobs which benefit poor people just as much as others.
Call it a carbon tax if you want. It's the same general idea that a group of conservatives - many from the two Bush administrations but also from as far back as the Reagan administration — have been pushing at the national level. That push - The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends - is coming from such 'radicals' as James Baker, Martin Feldstein, Henry Paulson, George Shultz and even a member of the Walton family, Rob Walton.
The ideas set forth by the Vermont state representatives this week do need more substance. Then they need close analysis and critique. But above all, they need to be given a chance.
Brattleboro, April 14
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