Gubernatorial Candidates Weigh in on Environmental Tax Reform

The race for governor is heating up as candidates begin to announce their platforms on issues important to Massachusetts voters.

Environmental issues—particularly fossil fuel divestment and Boston’s carbon reduction, both of which SPARE CHANGE NEWS has previously reported on—have dominated part of the conversation as caucuses have begun across the state.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Avellone announced his plans to implement a revenue-neutral carbon tax last week.

“This revenue neutral tax will more accurately reflect the true cost of using fossil fuels for heavy users. It will change behavior and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our fight against damaging climate change,” said Avellone in a press release. In an exclusive interview with SPARE CHANGE NEWS, Avellone said he would design the new system to protect low-income citizens.

“It would be for heavy fossil fuel users in the Commonwealth,” Avellone explained. “We’d increase the price in Mass. by lowering income tax rates—a model that was developed in British Columbia. They implemented a carbon tax in 2008, and it has lowered emissions by 11 percent with no measurable negative effect on their economy. We can do that here.” Avellone also plans to build an earned income tax credit for revenue made from the carbon tax. “We would build in dollar-for-dollar reductions, low-income tax credits, corporate and business tax breaks, and maybe even sales tax breaks,” he said. “This would need some analysis.”

Avellone admits that such a large-scale effort would need to pass through the Massachusetts legislature and that he supports a similar bill in the Massachusetts House. “An Act Relevant to Shifting from Carbon Emissions to Transportation Investment,” or H. 2531, is currently with the Joint Committee on Revenue.

Sponsored by Reps. Thomas Conroy (D–Wayland) and Michael Barrett (D–Lexington), the legislation would impose a tax on coal, oil and natural gas and dedicate the revenue raised toward much-needed transportation investment. “We need to do something bold,” Avellone said. “The state, through the Patrick Administration, has made some good first steps with the Global Warming Solutions Act, but they’re just targets, and we need widespread behavior.”

Another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Don Berwick, released a press statement this week that briefly outlines comprehensive environmental tax reform. Berwick claims, “The reforms would aim to lower income and sales taxes for Massachusetts families while reducing the state’s yearly carbon emissions by 10 percent.” According to a 2013 study by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), environmental tax reform will create over 10,000 jobs in Massachusetts and increase that state’s GDP by $450 million per year.

“Our economy should align with our values,” said Berwick in a post on Blue Mass Group. “As it is written today, our tax system puts more of a burden on the activities we want to encourage—work and investment—than it puts on pollution. By levying a tax on carbon dioxide emitted into our air, we can raise enough revenue to reduce the income and sales tax burdens for Massachusetts families and small businesses. Let’s tax pollution, not jobs.”

When asked about environmental tax reform, other gubernatorial candidates made less bold moves. In an email, Juliette Kayyem’s campaign said, “The issue of climate change is one of Juliette’s main concerns, and as governor she will make it a top priority. Juliette supports implementing a carbon tax, so long as it is revenue neutral. As governor, she will encourage a carbon tax with the stipulation that it is not regressive.”

Kyle Sullivan, spokesperson for the Coakley campaign, responded, “Attorney General Coakley recognizes that climate change presents an enormous challenge, not only to Massachusetts, but to the entire country and the world; that is why she went to the Supreme Court to hold the EPA accountable for regulating harmful greenhouse gas emissions. While she is open to considering all proposals to meet our 2020 and 2050 emissions reduction goals, she believes we must do so in a manner that does not place Massachusetts’ businesses at a competitive disadvantage. With that in mind, we must also explore what we can do on other fronts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, from strengthening the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), to promoting home and business energy retrofits and other efficiency improvements, to improving our public transportation infrastructure to get more cars off the road.”

The final contender for the Democratic Party ticket, State Treasurer Steve Grossman, was more reserved. “I’m actively exploring the proposal of a revenue neutral carbon tax, but I’m concerned about the disproportionate impact it could have on low- and middle-income families,” Grossman explained. “I remain open to a carbon tax, but any proposal I support must not place an unfair burden on families earning up to about $60,000 per year.”

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