Ross: Carbon tax is the wrong tax at the wrong time

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The idea that Vermont must pass a significant tax on all carbon based fuels is a proposal which, so far, has been thwarted by popular opposition. However, the beat goes on. Voters must connect some dots and put real pressure on their legislators to abandon this idea.

To paraphrase the dictum from General Omar Bradley, at a time when war with Mao's China was a potential threat, "This is the wrong tax at the wrong place at the wrong time."

The tax is wrong for several reasons. There is no justification for any tax unless it is needed to pay for legitimate government expenses.

The carbon tax is not intended to finance anything. It is intended to discourage the use of fossil fuel for any purpose. Taxes intended to change people's behavior or consumption habits simply do not work.Tobacco taxes which raised the price of cigarettes from $1 a pack to $10 a pack did not eliminate or reduce tobacco use. Gasoline and diesel fuels are taxed heavily to pay for highway construction and maintenance. Even when gasoline edges towards $5 a gallon driving does not drop off by much. The taxes on alcohol, which make up as much as 80 percent of the price do not reduce consumption.

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The carbon tax will not reduce consumption of fossil fuels for obvious reasons. Instead, the tax will damage our economy, and, at the same time, harm the living standards of a great many people. Most of our food supply and consumer goods reach our stores by truck. A tax on fuel will add to the price of groceries, clothing and other necessities.

Every month in our electric bills there is an appeal from "The Warmth Support Program" asking for donations to help "over 92,000 Vermonters" pay the costs "to avert life-threatening heating emergencies." If our state has that many homes with such severely limited financial resources that there is a need for a charity to provide the money to keep these homes safely warm, how can we justify imposing a tax on heating fuel that will increase the number of people who need assistance? This tax is a wrong tax and must be rejected.

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Vermont is the wrong place to experiment with a carbon tax to reduce fossil fuel consumption. We are a rural state with a scattered population and very little public transportation in most of the state. Our work force needs to drive to their jobs, often long distances. The number who can actually walk to work is tiny. Since our average incomes are on the low side nationally, adding to the cost of getting to a job amounts to a pay cut. We are in a cold climate region. The weather patterns that enable our ski areas and other cold weather industries to flourish increase the need to heat our homes for a longer part of the year, as well as to deal with frequent severely cold temperatures.

The state of the economy in many counties is shaky, if not in a state of crisis. The "Energizer Bunny" hopping out of Bennington is only one visible symptom of this. The empty store fronts in almost every town should be heeded. Our population is losing working age people at a rate which has caused the state to try and recruit in-migrants with a bribe of $10,000 to move here. Our state's population is tiny to begin with. Even if the carbon tax does reduce fuel consumption slightly, the effect on climate change will not be enough to be measured on any of the global scales. This is the wrong tax at the wrong place and must be rejected.

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As for the timing of this tax, there is no good time for it. Now is an especially bad time to impose this tax because there are no realistic plans in the works to replace carbon based fuels any time soon.

Electric cars are barely out of the novelty stage, and do have several serious drawbacks to their use. How many 18-wheelers with 15,000 pound loads have you seen that run on electricity? If we pass laws now that require new construction to be powered and heated with non-carbon based fuels, what is the time table and cost to retrofit all existing residences and commercial venues?

To sum up where we are on this issue, a carbon tax is the wrong tax at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Weiland Ross writes a regular column for the Journal


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