Energy & Environment

Progressive leader to propose Vermont ‘Green New Deal’

Anthony Pollina
Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, listens during a Senate Government Operations Committee discussion last May. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The leader of Vermont’s Progressive Party will propose creating a “Green New Deal” for the state in 2020. 

Under the plan, which will be offered in January by Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, the state would raise an additional $30 million in income tax from the top 5% of earners for five years. 

The funds would then be used to make investments in home weatherization and renewable heating systems, expand electric vehicle usage and help overhaul the state’s public transit system. 

Pollina, the chair of the Vermont Progressive Party, said pumping dollars into these sectors will create jobs, cut carbon emissions and help Vermonters save money by reducing the state’s reliance on fossil fuels. 

A 12-member panel, including four lawmakers and eight citizens who have expertise in green infrastructure and or transportation, would determine how the funding is spent. 

“There’s no affordability issue with this: It doesn’t take money out of Vermonters’ pockets except for the small number of very wealthy folks, and it actually puts people to work,” Pollina said of the plan. 

“I think it’s good for the economy as well as it’s good for the environment, and that’s what we’ve been missing is ways to make investments that actually do both.” 

Pollina argues that the wealthy Vermonters who will be taxed to fund the program can afford to contribute more revenue, because they have been benefiting from tax cuts that President Donald Trump and Congress instituted in 2017.    

He said that since the Trump tax changes, the top 5% of earners — about 15,000 Vermont tax filers — have been paying about $240 million less in federal taxes per year, and that his proposal would require them to contribute about 10% of their tax cuts to the Green New Deal. 

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Someone making about $500,000 a year — meaning they fall in the top 1% of income earners in the state — would pay about $3,000 more in state income taxes under the proposal, Pollina said. 

The Green New Deal would stop raising money from wealthy Vermonters in 2026, when Trump’s tax breaks are also scheduled to expire

Pollina’s proposal comes as Democrats in the Statehouse will be considering several bills in 2020 aimed at cutting carbon emissions, as pressure to take action on climate change mounts. 

Democrats’ climate change priorities including authorizing the state to take part in the “Transportation Climate Initiative,” a regional push to charge companies for bringing fossil fuels into the state. Governments would then use the funds to invest in carbon-cutting measures. 

Another bill, the “Global Warming Solutions Act,” would require Vermont to reduce its carbon emissions by about 25% by 2025. Unlike the state’s current emissions targets, which are only goals, the bill would hold state agencies legally liable for cutting emissions.

Sarah Copeland-Hanzas
Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, D-Bradford, outlines the agenda of the Vermont Climate Solutions Caucus at a public forum in St. Johnsbury last month. Photo by Elizabeth Gribkoff/VTDigger

Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, D-Bradford, a vice chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus, which has been working on the climate change policies, said she believes that, “conceptually,” a Green New Deal could be a good way to combat climate change. 

“I have not heard enough details about this new proposal to know whether it’s something I would support,” she said. “But it’s certainly worth having a conversation about how we prioritize rural and low income, and frankly middle income Vermonters in this transition.” 

Pollina’s proposal also comes after Green New Deal legislation was first introduced at the federal level by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey D-Mass.

The federal Green New Deal, proposed in a resolution last February, lays out the framework for a policy to reshape the U.S. economy and drastically cut carbon emissions by investing in jobs and infrastructure. 

The plan calls for the nation to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and reshape its transportation system by investing in electric vehicles and high-speed rail. It also envisions a series of government programs that would create green energy jobs.

Sen. Randy Brock
Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

State Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, said he is concerned that raising taxes on the wealthy to fund the Vermont Green New Deal would encourage high earners to leave the state. 

“My concern is it would drive more and more higher income people to relocate their tax homes outside of Vermont,” he said. “The net effect would be to reduce our tax revenue overall.”

Brock added that he favors incentives, like the state’s program that provides financial assistance to help residents purchase electric vehicles, to address climate change. 

“The more we can incentivize people to make changes on their own, that makes sense,” he said. 

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Gov. Phil Scott has also pointed to electric vehicles as a key part of his strategy to address climate change, and has suggested his 2020 budget will include additional funding to expand electric vehicle usage. 

But Scott has expressed skepticism over the Democratic climate change bills coming in 2020, including the legislation that would authorize Vermont to take part in the 12-state Transportation Climate Initiative.

Under the agreement, which would include northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, fuel prices could rise by as much as 17 cents a gallon. Many Republicans, including the governor, are concerned the agreement would effectively create a carbon tax that burdens low-income residents. 

But Pollina stressed it would be harder for policymakers concerned about the burden on low-income residents to oppose his plan, because it only involves taxing the wealthy. 

“I don’t think the average Vermonter who’s struggling to get by and wants their home weatherized is going to be very sympathetic to that argument,” he said. 

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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