Opinion
November 25, 2014

State about to slap a $.45 cent tax on gas? Are they nuts?

By Emerson Lynn

If several Vermont environmental groups and key policy makers have their way, the Legislature will impose a tax on gasoline and heating fuels, raising the price of a gallon of gas an estimated 45 cents. This will be Vermont’s way to help cut greenhouse gas emissions.

They are delusional.

Vermonters pay considerably above the national average for their gasoline and heating oil. They are only now beginning to enjoy a little extra cash in their pockets because the price of oil has dropped so precipitously. And the ones benefitting the most are the low and middle income wage earners.
Just when the economic pressures are beginning to ease – thanks to lower fuel prices – and the savings to consumers might be used to perk up the economy, there is a concerted effort to slap a $.45 cent tax on a gallon of gas?

Did the voters’ message last Tuesday fall on deaf ears?

Apparently.

It will not happen. If it does, the political repercussions for those behind the effort will be swift and certain.

As an idea, a tax on carbon is an old one. It also makes sense. The more something costs, the less it’s used. To be effective in addressing global climate change we must reduce our usage of the oil and gas we use to power our economy.  The revenue generated can then be used for the research and development necessary to improve the efficiencies of renewable energy.

But this is not something Vermont can, or should do by its lonesome. As a nation, it’s a defensible proposal. Even as a region it would be worth pursuing. But to solidify Vermont’s reputation as an expensive place to live by making sure everyone also knows our gas prices are higher than anyone’s else’s is daft.

The proponents of the raised tax pull the same political tricks everyone else uses in pushing something unpopular: They contend it will create jobs and that the revenue will be used to reduce taxes.

Voila.

Of course it will. We’re only surprised they aimed so low. If slapping an extra $.45 cents on every gallon of gas stimulates the economy and reduces the tax burden on Vermonters, then think what a buck a gallon tax would do. Why stop there?

But it doesn’t work that way. Never has.

There is no foolproof way to make sure that those most affected are held harmless. And in a rural state like Vermont, where there is little public transportation, the potential harm to businesses is considerable. And that affects our jobs.

We’re already a no growth state. Why would we add to our challenges? Is that the message these advocacy groups heard from last week’s voters, that we’re under-taxed and not interested in economic growth? Or did they have their press conference planned far in advance of the election, and, despite the disaster that unfolded, decided to plow forward regardless?

Whatever the reason, they have shown themselves to be completely out of touch with the average Vermonter.
And it’s not that the average Vermonter isn’t environmentally sympathetic. To the contrary, most Vermonters embrace the need for a cleaner, healthier planet. Most

Vermonters live their lives in accordance with those beliefs.

But they are also smart enough to know what works and what doesn’t. And what doesn’t work is to set ourselves apart from all others in a way that puts us at an economic disadvantage.

There are ways Vermont can distinguish itself on the energy front. We’ve argued before that we should trumpet Vermont as the electric state and that we should broadcast our reputation for energy innovation far and wide. We have that ability. And that would strengthen our economy.

We can distinguish ourselves with the caliber of our educational system, and our tourism related environs. We have the ability to lead on issues related to the world’s food systems.

But we weaken our ability to do these things when we lessen our ability to compete, and we lessen our ability to compete when the cost to live here rises above the people’s ability to pay. And that’s where we are.

The advocates of this proposal don’t get this.

The governor should shut down this idea as quickly and convincingly as he can.

Emerson Lynn is the publisher of the St. Albans Messenger, a sister paper of The Mountain Times.

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