State rep proposes fossil fuel fee to reduce property taxes

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State rep proposes fossil fuel fee to reduce property taxes

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 2:55pm -- tim

At Ben & Jerry's headquarters in South Burlington Monday morning, left to right: Nick Wählers, field organizer at VPIRG; South Royalton farmer Geo Honigford; Representative Martin LaLonde; VBSR Executive Director Jane Campbell; Laura Peterson from Ben & Jerry’s; Jay Tandan, assistant global activism manager at Ben & Jerry’s; Jerry Greenfield; and AllEarth's David Blittersdorf. Click on photo for video of press conference. VBM photos.

by Timothy McQuiston Vermont Business Magazine Carbon tax legislation isn’t dead, it’s just being reborn in a different form with a different incentive. Vermont Representative and South Burlington School Board Member Martin LaLonde announced a property tax reform and climate action proposal today at the headquarters of Ben & Jerry’s. While exact details of the bill will have to be constructed in committee, LaLonde’s legislation basically would charge some sort of fee on fossil fuel distributors and use the proceeds to reduce property taxes.

He said this could raise the cost of gasoline or home heating, which became the focus of opponents to previous bills. The bill, however, would be revenue neutral, he said, because the funds would pay down the statewide property tax on the other side.

Vermont, he said, spends about $2 billion a year on energy, most of which is sent out of state. He said transitioning to energy efficiency and local energy production will keep more of that money in state.

LaLonde said this is just one of four carbon reduction bills that will be introduced this session, though none of them will get through the Legislature before next year.

(STORY: Four carbon bills proposed)

Previous attempts to use taxes or fees to reduce carbon emissions have failed to reach the governor’s desk. As a candidate last year, Governor Phil Scott vowed to veto any such bill. In its previous iterations, the carbon tax plans would go to support renewable energy projects.

LaLonde acknowledged that this could raise costs to consumers, perhaps at the gas pump. He hopes his bill will be more palatable to his fellow lawmakers and to the governor than previous carbon tax bills because it would provide something everyone can get behind: much needed property tax relief. The proposal, he said, would diversify and stabilize Vermont’s education financing system.

“As a state representative and a school board member, I am keenly aware of the frustration and anxiety Vermonters have with rising property taxes. This bill offers relief. It will be good for our schools and good for future generations of Vermont children,” said Representative LaLonde. “It aligns our tax code with Vermont’s needs and goals.”

Joining LaLonde was Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility Executive Director Jane Campbell, among others.

"The evidence for climate change cannot be any more clear. 2016 was the warmest year on record and it was the third consecutive year in which a record was set worldwide for average surface temperatures. While at the same time he have an administration in Washington, DC, that refuses to acknowledge climate change and continues to be addicted to a fossil fuel economy that is archaic and living in the past," Greenfield said. "We all have a duty and responsibility to not only make a stronger economy, to not only have a more sustainable world, but by doing it by having a tax system that is more fair and more just."

LaLonde pointed out that carbon pollution pricing is used around the world to address climate change and strengthen local economies.

Republican Governor Jim Douglas implemented Vermont’s first price on carbon pollution in its electricity sector through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative -- and it is working, LaLonde said. He cited California as one such state that has implemented carbon standards and seen its economy grow.

RGGI states have reduced emissions by 16 percent more than other states and seen 3.6 percent more economic growth since RGGI launched, while Vermont has the second lowest electric rates (Maine is lowest) and the fastest GDP growth rate in New England.

LaLonde said his bill would expand that successful model to Vermont’s transportation and heating sectors.

“Climate change is real and it’s bad, but there’s hope. If we work together we can cut the carbon pollution that is causing global warming while also offering property tax relief,” said Geo Honigford, a farmer and school board member from South Royalton. Honigford is a vegetable grower whose farm is powered by solar energy.

Campbell said there is growing concern among the business community around climate change’s impact on the economy.

“Proposals like this one can help Vermont combat climate change and create local, good-paying jobs in the clean energy economy,” Campbell said.