(Note: I’ve updated this post to include more quotes, because the interview is now available online.)
You may have missed the news amid all the hugger-mugger over the inaugural protest, but the Legislature’s top advocate for a carbon tax has already thrown in the towel.
Rep. Tony Klein (D-East Montpelier), chair of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was one of the headliners at last November’s news conference announcing a broad-based push for a carbon tax. “I’m going to push really hard on this,” he said.
Well, that was then. This is now.
There’s not gonna be [a carbon tax] this year. It’s not gonna be passed out of my committee or any other committee.
Klein said those words on January 8, Inauguration Day, in an interview on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show. I caught the interview when it aired, but it got lost in the Inaugural Shuffle. Sorry about that.
After Klein’s declaration, Johnson asked him why there would be no vote.
It will not pass because, one, the Speaker told me it won’t pass. [chuckle] And two, the way it came out to the public, with a real lack on our part of preparation, there was a pretty scary reaction to it. I accept that; that was a mistake.
That’s a reference to the immediate reaction to the November presser. I’m not sure how he would change the rollout; my own view is that it seemingly came out of nowhere. There wasn’t any build, just a big announcement. At the same time, I’m not sure if any other strategy would have made a difference; too many top Democrats simply don’t like the carbon tax. Well, put it this way: they don’t want Vermont to go it alone: they want a regional or national approach.
I’m certainly not going to ask the members of my committee to vote on something that may cause a lot of discomfort, especially if it’s not going to go anywhere.
Which is wise chairmanship. I can’t argue with it. I can’t even argue all that much with Shap Smith’s reputed diktat, because this is already shaping up to be one hell of a session without considering a tax on fossil fuels during home heating season.
It’s too bad, because with oil prices currently low, it’d be a great time to enact a carbon tax. After all, the price of gas is a buck and a half cheaper than it was nine months ago; as proposed in November, the carbon tax would add 45 cents to the price of a gallon of gas. And, lest we forget, 90% of the revenue would go into broad-based tax cuts and targeted rebates for low-income Vermonters.
Klein said his attention would turn toward “aggressive funding” of weatherization and other efficiency measures. Which would be great, except we’re in a budget situation that would seem to rule out “aggressive funding” of anything. If Klein’s committee passes a significant expansion of efficiency measures, we can expect to see it expire on the surgical table of House Ways and Means.
The carbon tax proposal was a carefully-crafted plan that would have minimized the pain on Vermonters, reflected the true cost of fossil fuels in their price, and made a huge dent in Vermont’s carbon footprint. I’m not surprised to see it fall in the face of unpleasant political realities; I’m just sad to see it happen so quickly. Not with a bang, but a whimper.