New carbon tax proposals look to shift burden onto pollution - VTDigger

New carbon tax proposals look to shift burden onto pollution

Johannah Donovan

Rep. Johannah Donovan, D-Burlington, speaks at a news conference Monday in Barre. Photo by Mike Polhamus/VTDigger

Four House members are proposing what they’re calling tax reform bills that all seek to institute carbon taxes while reducing or eliminating other taxes or returning the revenue to Vermonters through other means.

One of the bills would eliminate Vermont’s sales tax and raise the same amount from a tax on carbon dioxide pollution, a contributor to climate change.

Another would return all its revenue to Vermonters through dividend checks every three months.

A third would exempt businesses earning less than $400,000 a year from paying income tax and would cut income tax rates across the board while doubling a tax credit for low-income residents.

The fourth would slash property taxes for education and raise the equivalent amount through a tax on carbon dioxide pollution.

The bills have not yet been fully written, and lawmakers say this is the beginning of a push to enact legislation during next year’s legislative session.

Lawmakers proposing the bills say all four are revenue-neutral, meaning they do not increase taxes overall or generate any additional government revenue.

Diana Gonzalez

Rep. Diana Gonzalez

The four sponsors are Reps. Diana Gonzalez, P/D-Winooski, Johannah Donovan, D-Burlington, Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, and Martin LaLonde, D-South Burlington. The announcement of the bills came Monday at a news conference in Barre where people held signs reading “Tax reform & climate action.”

Without having seen the legislation, the head of Vermont’s Republican Party said the bills will raise taxes and that the party opposes them all.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s spokeswoman, Rebecca Kelley, did not respond to a request for comment.

Vermont GOP Chair Dave Sunderland said the bills are a trick by Democrats and Progressives. Sunderland said he had not read any of the four bills but declared “it’s just not true” they wouldn’t increase taxes.

“These proposals all have components that will increase the cost of living in Vermont,” Sunderland said.

His party, Sunderland said, “diametrically opposes any new increase in taxes that will impact working middle-class Vermonters.”

Revenue-neutral carbon taxes have been adopted elsewhere, said Vermont Law School professor Janet Milne, who is director of the Environmental Tax Law Institute.

The classic example of a revenue-neutral carbon tax is found in British Columbia, Milne said, which is designed to protect low-income taxpayers.

There is “no debate” over whether British Columbia’s carbon tax actually accomplishes revenue neutrality and raises no new net revenues for the government, Milne said.

“It guarantees that all revenue goes back to taxpayers, in the form of tax reform,” she said. British Columbia’s carbon tax contains multiple mechanisms to avoid burdening low-income residents. It also provides tax relief for businesses.

If British Columbia’s carbon tax raises any new revenue, for instance, the province’s finance minister loses 15 percent from his or her paycheck that year, Milne said.

Other countries have instituted carbon taxes that do raise additional revenue, such as Ireland and Japan, she said.

Governments have seen their gross domestic product rise and emissions fall in countries both with revenue-neutral carbon taxes and with carbon taxes that are not revenue-neutral, Milne said.

The carbon tax bill that would return all proceeds to Vermonters through quarterly dividend checks was copied from a recent proposal by members of the administrations of former Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, said Gonzalez, the bill’s sponsor.

“My plan is a conservative plan,” she said.

Vermonters spend roughly $2 billion each year on fossil fuels, or around $3,200 per person, said Donovan.

She is introducing a bill that would double the earned income tax credit for about 40,000 low-income Vermonters, while exempting businesses earning $400,000 or less from paying income tax. The bill would also cut the income tax rate for the lowest-income Vermonters from 3.55 percent to 1.75 percent.

These cuts would be funded with an equivalent amount of revenue from a tax on carbon dioxide pollution, Donovan said. The proposal would strengthen the economy, create jobs and reduce the cost of living within the state, she said.

Copeland Hanzas has another bill that would eliminate Vermont’s sales tax altogether and replace that revenue with an equivalent amount brought in from taxes on carbon dioxide pollution.

LaLonde’s bill proposes dramatic reductions to the state’s property tax, again to be offset by an equal amount of revenue from a tax on carbon pollution.

Lawmakers plan to introduce all four Tuesday.

The bills are not expected to pass this year, Gonzalez and Donovan said. Rather, they’re meant to be “a good jump-start” to next year, the second half of the biennium, Gonzalez said.

Clarification: Janet Milne’s comments have been edited to clarify the effect of a carbon tax in British Columbia. Also, an earlier correction mischaracterized Copeland Hanzas’ bill. It would eliminate the sales tax.

Mike Polhamus

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