Test-run initiative language

Our test-run initiative (I-1271, full text here) has now received a ballot title and summary, which are the items that appear on the ballot. (The full text appears in the voters pamphlet.)

Ballot Title: Initiative Measure No. 1271 concerns a carbon tax on fossil fuels. This measure would levy a tax on fossil fuels, based on their greenhouse gas emissions. The revenue generated would be divided equally between public investments in transportation, and tax rebates, reductions, and incentives. Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]

Ballot Measure Summary: This measure would levy a tax, set initially at $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent, on fossil fuels in Washington and on fossil fuels used to generate electricity imported into Washington. Half the revenue generated would be devoted to tax rebates, reductions, or incentives for low-income working families, manufacturers, certain research and development activities, and property taxes. The remaining revenue would be devoted to public investments in transit, road maintenance, and freight mobility.

FYI you can see this and other initiatives on the Secretary of State’s website here. And for that matter you can submit your own initiative here.

9 responses to “Test-run initiative language”

  1. Based on the initiative text, I think this is a fine result. The one thing that’s missing is any mention of why we would want a carbon tax. According to the initiative text itself, that is to “promote sustainable economic development,” but I do wonder if it would be helpful to unpack that for people who may not know what a “carbon tax” or “greenhouse gas emissions” are.

    The emphasis on “sustainable economy” is great. Would it be helpful to also get “global warming pollution tax” more up front?

    I apologize if I missed a previous conversation …

  2. City of Seattle has proposed a new Climate Action Plan with a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.
    #8 Recommendation
    “Encourage the State to evaluate what carbon pricing mechanism (carbon tax, cap-and-trade program or other) will work best in Washington, including how to mitigate the regressive impacts of the selected pricing mechanism.
    Actively work to build community support for carbon pricing in Washington State.”
    The city is inviting public review and comments.
    http://greenspace.seattle.gov/climateactionplan/

  3. I was puzzled by section 11(1)(a), which mentions “airplanes, boats, and other vehicles” but not trucks or automobiles. Also “vehicles” should be defined in the definitions section (12). Presumably it would include motorcycles, motorscooters, snowmobiles, off-road vehicles, industrial vehicles, etc.

    However, fossil fuels are used in many other ways as well – heavy machinery, manufacturing processes, heating buildings, stoves, lawn mowers, chain saws, etc. So I would focus on fossil fuels that are sold for any kind of burning or combustion, with oil for lubrication exempted.

    Another point: The way it reads now you have to go to section 12 to find out that “fossil fuels” includes all fuels derived from coal, oil, and natural gas. It would be helpful right up front to indicate that this term includes all refined fuels like gasoline, diesel, and propane.

    Also, Phil’s point is a good one.

  4. Phil Mitchell, above, comments “The one thing that’s missing is any mention of why we would want a carbon tax. ” I am not sure how much about that should go in the summary. (IMHO Definitely not anything about global warming, too much of a red flag). However, supporting literature should go into detail. Here is what I see the measure as doing:

    1. It combats global pollution by providing an incentive for energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is the one thing everyone can agree is good–environmentalists worried about climate change, businesses worried about competitiveness, geostrategy types worried about energy independence. The US is way below world standards on energy efficiency–UK uses 68 percent less energy per dollar of GDP, export powerhouse Germany uses 41 percent less.

    2. Helps fund underinvestment in transportation infrastructure. Increasing energy efficiency is making the gasoline tax–the traditional source of transportation funding–inadequate for the purpose. Adding a carbon tax makes far more sense than other proposed measures than, for example, a surcharge on hybrid and electric vehicles because they are “too efficienct.” The ideal transportation taxes would be all user fees–mileage taxes for cars, marginal cost pricing of ferries, etc. The carbon tax is a big step forward relative to the gasoline tax, though.

    3. The carbon tax improves the fairness and efficiency of the tax system overall by making it possible to lower rates on other taxes, for example, the payroll tax, which is both regressive and discourages people from working.

  5. Comment via email:

    Hi, Yoram. I don’t know what the rules are, so I don’t know how useful this advice may be, but here’s grist for your mill.

    The title:

    In the title, the third sentence seems ambiguous to me. Does it mean that the revenue gets divided 50/50 between transportation and various tax breaks, or does it mean that transportation, rebates, reductions, and incentives each get 25%? I’d suggest – “Half the revenue would be devoted to tax rebates, reductions and incentives, and half would be used for pubic investments in transportation.” That’s still not great, because I don’t know what a “tax incentive” is, and it makes me suspicious, and (to be pickier still) I don’t see how revenue can be “devoted to a reduction” – you can’t spend money on a reduction.

    If it’s possible, I would not lead with the tax line. I would lead with “This measure will reduce taxes, provide rebates on current taxes, provide tax incentives (whatever they are?), and provide funding for the state’s transportation needs, using the dedicated revenue from a tax on fossil fuels.”

    The summary:

    Similarly, I would not start with the tax. I’d start with the benefits.

    The second sentence is ambiguous in a number of ways. First, it sounds as if all of the tax benefits are going to go to “low-income working families”, not the voters you hope will support this. Second, I don’t know what an “incentive for property taxes” is. Apart from that, I’d suggest something like this for the second sentence:

    > Half the revenue generated would be devoted to tax rebates, tax reductions, and tax incentives for low-income working families, manufacturers, certain research and development activities, and property taxes.

    More generally:

    I think that anything vague or open about how the money will be spent makes voters dubious. I think you’d be much better off just picking some numbers that seem good to you and saying 25% will go to this; 15% will go to that; etc… than you will be saying “It will be divided up in some way we’re not telling you between a lot of different stuff, depending on what the politicians decide to do with it, and by the way, some of those items might be things that aren’t that popular with lots of voters outside Seattle, like handing it out to low-income working families and transit.”

  6. Comment via email:

    For the summary, I would move property taxes up – to be first in the list of benefits. In the last sentence, I would also move road maintenance and freight mobility up.

    I’m sure my thoughts are exactly wrong from the “expert bill writer” point of view, but here they are!

    Overall, for both, I would like to see something that makes it clear that the carbon tax will not simply be a new tax, but that it will result in reductions in taxes elsewhere.

    And, this is probably way outside the rules, but do you have to call it a “tax” at all?

  7. First I want to say thank you for getting it this far. I trust there was a lot of thought and strategy behind how to allocate the $ so I am not sure how useful my comment is relative to that knowledge base. However, my first reaction is that it will be harder to sell because we can’t say most of the revenues are going back to the people as with the BS carbon tax. The revenue split seems complicated and that could be a liability. The provision to help the low income citizens is good. Allocating 50% to transportation infrastructure seems like a lot. Can we cut this back in favor of increased tax relief and/or earmark a healthy amount for bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure projects.

  8. Terrific initiative.

    Clarification needed: (where’s a lawyer?)
    On the language: “Ballot Measure Summary: This measure would levy a tax, set initially at $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent, on fossil fuels in Washington and on fossil fuels used to generate electricity imported into Washington.”

    How can we tax out-of-state fossil fuels? Shouldn’t that read “tax on imported electricity that was generated by fossil fuels” … We might look into this one phrase, it could be serious ‘gotcha’ –

    Because, if tax from another state is noncollectable – then it means any electricity coming in can originate from high carbon – ie. from coal fired plants…

    Not so bad for us since we are mostly hydro, but if our language is used by other states.. then a carbon tax becomes moot – because just by crossing a state line – electricity escapes any carbon taxes. And carbon usage for making electricity remains high. I am sure this was not intended – is that plausible?

    1. Nevermind the act reads correctly: (I think)

      (b) Fossil fuels used to generate electricity imported into Washington, to be determined by using the fuel mix data required under RCW 19.29A.060. Any tax collected under this section must be collected in a manner that provides that the same tax schedule applies to in-state and out-of-state generation.

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