Massachusetts Carbon Tax Supporters Should Stop Acting Like Europeans, Opponents Say

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Pro-tax planners are acting more like Eurocrats than Americans in their attempt to push a regional tax on carbon through the Transportation and Climate Initiative, opponents of the measure said Wednesday.

“TCI is a carbon tax implemented through a gas tax. It’s regressive toward the working class. It acts like a sin tax, punishing ordinary people for doing a task the government believes is wrong by artificially increasing the cost. It’s bad economics and morally wrong,” said Paul D. Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, in a written statement issued Wednesday, December 11 after a press conference at the Massachusetts State House in Boston.

According to the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, Craney was joined at the press conference by a representative of the National Federation of Independent Business, which contends that an increase in the state’s gas tax would hurt small businesses by increasing their costs.

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance identified eight state legislators opposing the Transportation and Climate Initiative, including three the organization said attended the press conference:  state Representative Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk), state Representative David DeCoste (R-Norwell), and state Representative Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica).

Other supporters, according to Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, include four Republicans (state Senator Ryan Fattman of Sutton and state Representatives Lenny Mirra of West Newbury, Nick Boldyga of Southwick, and Peter Durant of Spencer) and one Democrat, state Representative Colleen Garry of Dracut.

The Transportation and Climate Initiative is supported by Democrats on Beacon Hill and by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican. Baker said last month he doesn’t support what he called a “big increase” in the state’s gas tax, however.

Baker administration officials have argued that while the Transportation and Climate Initiative could lead to higher gasoline prices in Massachusetts, it isn’t a gas tax. Instead, they say, it’s a so-called “cap-and-invest” program, meaning state officials would cap the allowable amount of emissions from internal combustion engines like automobiles and charge fuel providers for an “allowance” of emissions, using the money to invest in transportation approaches to reduce pollution that state officials say is leading to global warming.

The governor’s press office could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday, December 11.

The Transportation and Climate Initiative is a regional collaboration that includes Washington D.C. and the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.

A written statement from the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance called the Transportation and Climate Initiative a “European style league of states.”

Craney said the proposed regional carbon tax isn’t just bad economic policy, but bad government, as well, because it could amount to an end-run around the state’s democratic process.

“While taxpayers are the most obvious victims of TCI, individual legislators are affected as well. Rank and file members are being stripped of their prerogatives and denied an opportunity to carry out the duty they were elected to perform,” Craney said in a written statement. “Taxpayers and constituents deserve more, and lawmakers should demand more.”

Baker administration officials have suggested the governor may already have the authority to implement the Transportation and Climate Initiative without express further approval by the Massachusetts Legislature. That doesn’t sit well with Craney.

“Make no mistake: this is a very slippery slope for Massachusetts. Lawmakers from other states in the TCI agreement are seeking legislative approval. Governor Baker’s administration, whether legally required or not, should also act in good faith and seek legislative buy in. What could be lost by the Governor seeking support for a tax increase that would impact every person in Massachusetts?” Craney said. “If he doesn’t, it’s the legislature’s job to hold him accountable. There must be an open and transparent legislative process on the details of the agreement.”