Daily Archives: January 12, 2015

Oh, by the way… the carbon tax? It’s dead.

(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.

Klein concluded:

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.

Here’s something Governor Shumlin should stop saying

Ever since last Thursday’s inaugural ceremonies, Gov. Shumlin has been telling anyone who will listen that he was “saddened” by the presence of protesters. Like other Democrats, he singles out the one protester who crossed the line by singing during the benediction.

He has to highlight that one moron because otherwise, the demonstrators were not disruptive or offensive. They followed the rules of civil protest. The inauguration proceeded as scheduled until the very end.

Of course, what really offends the governor is that they dared to crash his coronation. The Vermont Press Bureau:

“The inauguration is an opportunity where we all say, ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves, cut out all this party stuff and get to work,’” the governor said. “And I just don’t think that they did their cause… much good by the kind of tactics they employed…”

Or in Brill Building terms: “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To.”

The whingeing is excessive and self-centered. But I’d like to focus on one thing the Governor is saying, over and over again, that hurts his credibility. It goes something like this:

“I was really saddened by what happened yesterday, because I’m as frustrated as anyone with our health care system, and there’s no one that wants to see the goal of universal access as much as I do,” he said.

That’s from Saturday’s Burlington Free Press, but he’s been spouting variations on that theme in other outlets.

And he needs to stop. Now.

For one thing, it’s false. For another, it’s a two-sided statement: Shumlin is trying to emphasize his own political pain and loss — but at the same time, he’s downgrading everyone else’s.

Is there really no one who is more frustrated by Shumlin’s abandonment of single-payer? Is there really no one who more ardently wants to see universal access?

Of course there is.

Start within the administration itself. Are Robin Lunge or Mark Larson less disappointed than Shumlin? How about Anya Rader Wallack? Or Jonathan Gruber, who’s become a national laughingstock and has now lost his best chance to enact single-payer? There must be, at minimum, dozens of staffers and contractors who’ve put their heart and soul into Vermont’s single-payer initiative. That’s not to mention the single-payer advocates like Deb Richter and Peter Sterling, who served on the Governor’s Consumer Advisory Council and had the rug pulled out from under them.

Widening our scope, how about the entire Progressive Party, which put its own gubernatorial ambitions on hold for three straight election cycles in order to give Shumlin a free hand on single-payer? Might they be more frustrated than the Governor?

Which is not to overlook Democrats who’ve fought for single-payer. Maybe ex-Rep. Mike Fisher feels a bit of disappointment after losing his bid for re-election and then the cause he’d worked so hard for.

Finally, let’s not forget the tens of thousands of Vermonters who still don’t have health insurance, and the additional tens of thousands who still struggle to pay their premiums, in spite of the Affordable Care Act’s advancements. They are directly impacted by Shumlin’s decision in ways that he will never, ever be. He’s a millionaire who can afford any kind of health coverage he wants, up to and including concierge medicine from the Mayo Clinic.

That’s a partial list, but a substantial one. I think it’s safe to say that there is at least one person more frustrated and more disappointed than Governor Shumlin.

Whether he intends it or not, the Governor slights the feelings and experiences of all those people  when he claims special status as the number-one victim of single-payer’s demise.

As for what he should say instead, here’s a suggestion:

“My decision not to pursue single-payer health care has caused a lot of anger and frustration, and disappointed a lot of people, including many who have supported me politically. Our inability to move forward on single-payer has brought pain to thousands of Vermonters who are still without health insurance. 

“I apologize to each and every one of them. My commitment to universal access is as strong as ever, and as long as I am Governor, I will strive to advance the cause of universal access to the best of my ability.” 

There. That’s not too hard, is it?