BURLINGTON — On the campaign trail in nearby New Hampshire, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders bangs the drum for a carbon tax and single-payer health care — despite the failure of both in his home state of Vermont.
When it comes to progressive causes, the left has no greater champion than Vermont’s junior senator. On the environment, Sanders proposes a national tax to cut carbon levels by 80 percent by 2050. His campaign site calls it “one of the most straightforward and cost-effective strategies for quickly fighting climate change.”
But in Vermont, where a proposed carbon tax is now in its second year of seeking legislative support, backers are struggling to convince the public the policy is environmentally or economically sound.
The carbon tax legislation calls for a $100 per ton of carbon emissions tax on gasoline, propane, natural gas and other fossil fuels. Proponents say a carbon tax will slash Vermont’s carbon emissions by 2 million tons annually and direct tax revenue to weatherization and energy efficiency programs. Critics blast the tax as regressive, arguing it will harm Vermonters whose pocketbooks are sensitive to fluctuations in gas prices.
Either way, the tax is projected to boost the cost of gasoline by up to 88 cents per gallon, assuming fuel distributors pass the cost on to consumers. A gallon of propane would rise 58 cents; heating oil and diesel fuel could jump $1.02 per gallon.
While the tax may nudge many Vermonters to fill up vehicles in nearby states like New York and New Hampshire, there’s a bigger problem: carbon-tax backers admit it won’t change global CO2 levels.
Faced with the prospect that Vermont’s carbon tax can do little — maybe nothing — to help global warming, Paul Burns, executive director of the pro-carbon-tax Vermont Public Interest Research Group, recently said during a Montpelier debate, “Alone, sure, we can’t do it.”
Perhaps not even together. In that debate, panelists were considering the provocative findings of economist Bjørn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center. CO2 reduction initiatives in the just-wrapped 2015 Paris Climate Summit agreement, Lomborg concludes, will reduce global temperatures by only one-sixth of one degree by the end of the century.
Such policy-killing admissions occur frequently in Vermont, where the state is on track to create an all green-energy economy that runs on 90 percent renewables by 2050.
Asa Hopkins, Vermont’s policy chief at the Department of Public Service, spoke to Watchdog about the impact an all-green Vermont would have on global warming. His analysis was surprisingly honest, if self-defeating.
“Climate change is a classic tragedy-of-the-commons problem where no one person’s actions, no one state, or even one country’s actions is attributable to even more than maybe a few percent of the global challenge,” Hopkins said.
Convincing Vermonters to sacrifice money and comfort for a policy that does nothing to avert a supposed climate apocalypse looks like a losing political battle. In fact, the tax is so steep and ineffective that Vermont’s Democratic governor doesn’t endorse it.
State lawmakers aren’t biting either. Earlier this month, the chair of the House Energy Committee, Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, told Watchdog “everybody knows that there will be no carbon tax bill seriously moved forward in any way, shape or form this session.”
When it comes to pushing a carbon tax on the nation, Sanders seems not to have gotten Vermont’s memo.
Sanders’ embrace of a single-payer health care system has fared no better in his home state.
In a rousing back-and-forth with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Saturday’s Democratic presidential debate, Sanders reaffirmed his belief in a Medicare-for-all single-payer health care system. That policy met crushing defeat exactly one year ago in Vermont.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, the top pitchman for a single-payer system in states, worked tirelessly for years to sell a government-run health care system that covered all 630,000 Vermonters. But after two years of concealing the system’s financing plan under executive privilege, and after consultant — and Obamacare modeling expert — Jonathan Gruber discredited himself in a series of candid video moments, Shumlin quietly killed single-payer.
“As we completed the financing modeling … it became clear that the risk of economic shock is too high at this time to offer a plan I can responsibly support for passage in the Legislature,” Shumlin said at the news conference announcing the event. “The taxes required to replace health-care premiums with a publicly financed plan that would best serve Vermont are, in a word, enormous.”
The new taxes required to pay for single payer were estimated at $2.6 billion for 2017, increasing to almost $3.2 billion in 2021. Estimates showed taxpayers couldn’t pay for single-payer even with a massive 11.5 percent payroll tax on all businesses and a sliding-scale income tax of up to 9.5 percent.
Sanders’ continued support of government-run health care and the carbon tax may have a simple explanation: despite their dramatic failings in Vermont, both underscore Sanders’ image as a democratic socialist. Sanders founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the 1990s, and pushed for single-payer in Obamacare’s so-called public option. Touting progressive policies out on the stump has certain appeal with voters who appreciate Sanders’ do-gooder politics.
But as word leaks about the failure of progressive policies in his own backyard, Sanders may find it harder to convince national audiences they’ll work for America.
Contact Bruce Parker at [email protected]