By David Van Deusen
As president of the 10,000 member Vermont AFL-CIO (and as a former organizer with the Sierra Club), it was with keen interest that I read the recommendations of the Transportation and Climate Initiative. This group, representing 12 Northeast states, is seeking to take steps to increase the price of fuel over a decade in order to drive people away from more frequent use of gas powered cars. With the money that the states recoup as a result, said money would be reinvested in supposedly “green” projects. Vermont is now contemplating joining this initiative.
The Vermont AFL-CIO supports a true, union-based, Green New Deal for Vermont (and beyond). But central to our vision for a socially just, renewable energy future (built and maintained with union labor) is that such a bold social project needs to be funded through progressive taxation and other creative means which do not regressively put more burdens on low income and working class people. The fact is that Vermont has something worse than a poor public transportation system. Any scheme which seeks to price working people out of driving a gas powered vehicle (without having a comprehensive public transit system and affordable electric cars readily available first) will not result in workers driving less. Rather, such moves will do nothing more than take dollars out of the pockets of working people — money which we desperately need while living in a society which does not guarantee livable wages, public healthcare, and affordable housing.
We can and should take meaningful and far reaching steps to provide for a healthy and sustainable environment. In fact we must do this in order to secure a desirable future for our children and grandchildren. We therefore need to be building publicly owned renewable energy plants. We need to be looking to massively reduce pollution and carbon emissions. We need to be building resiliency into our public infrastructure. We need a comprehensive (free) public transit system. We also need livable wages, paid family medical leave, single payer healthcare, free college tuition, better public funding for the arts, and a more direct democracy. But we cannot sustainably create such a society by breaking the backs of working people in the process.
Rather we must do what is right and fund such a social project by demanding that the wealthy pay their fair share (and the share they have gotten out of paying for generations).
Here Vermont needs to look at the massive federal tax savings the richest 5% have enjoyed under the Trump (and Bush) administrations, and in turn we must create a new progressive tax structure that recoups these funds here at home. And it is by means such as this that we can, should, and must build a better, greener, more equitable and secure future for the people of the Green Mountain state.
But charging the working class more money to get to their job? I fail to see how any friend of labor could stand by such a proposal.
David Van Deusen is president of the Vermont AFL-CIO