Update Dec 23: Here is our decision.
Hello carbon tax friends: This is a personal message from me (Yoram) to each and every one of you. It’s important, so please read the whole thing. But if you don’t have time right now, here’s a quick summary: We are on the fence about whether or not to turn in our 350,000 signatures because of the emergence of an alternative proposal. We welcome your feedback and will make a final decision by December 30. There will be a conference call for all volunteers on Tuesday (12/22) at 6pm. We will go until all questions are answered. To join the call, please RSVP by emailing email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to receive the code.
One of my favorite messages from our campaign—one that I think captures the spirit of our effort—was this one: “If you support the Alliance then God bless you and go support them. And if you support Carbon Washington then keep your eye on the ball [i.e., on qualifying I-732 for the ballot by collecting signatures and raising money].”
That message originated in this post, which included a somewhat lengthy third component that I want to reprint in full:
If you are undecided [then] make up your mind and get off the fence because the movement for climate action needs you. Both the Alliance and Carbon Washington care deeply about climate change, and both groups have impressive lists of supporters. The four main differences are these:
Carbon Washington believes that pursuing bipartisan climate action through a revenue-neutral approach is the right strategy in Washington State and in Washington, DC; the Alliance believes that the way to win is to use a revenue-positive package to unite the left.
Carbon Washington is advocating for a specific policy (a revenue-neutral carbon tax) and we are asking you to sign I-732 and collect signatures from your friends and neighbors and co-workers; the Alliance does not have a specific policy, so they are asking you to sign their “I believe in Washington” pledge.
Carbon Washington is committed to “taking a swing at the ball” because 2016 is a can’t-miss opportunity for climate action; the Alliance is exploring ballot options but they are not committed to running an initiative in 2016 because they believe that “swinging and missing” (i.e., losing at the ballot) would set the movement back.
The Alliance thinks the most important result from the poll they conducted last month is that initial support for the Carbon Washington proposal is under 40% (i.e., 39%); Carbon Washington thinks the most important result from that poll is that support climbs to over 60% (61% Yes, 35% No, 4% Undecided) when the proposal is explained in simple language.
I bring all this up because on Saturday the CarbonWA Executive Committee had a 5-hour meeting, and after many additional emails and phone calls I think it’s fair to say that we’re on the fence about whether we should turn in the 350,000 signatures that we have collected—the 350,000 signatures that your time and money have collected—in order to qualify I-732 for the Nov 2016 ballot.
In order to explain why we’re on the fence, and to suggest a path forward, I want to go back to that original post and look at the advice we gave to fence-sitters back in July.
The most important change since July concerns point #3:
3. Carbon Washington is committed to “taking a swing at the ball” because 2016 is a can’t-miss opportunity for climate action; the Alliance is exploring ballot options but they are not committed to running an initiative in 2016 because they believe that “swinging and missing” (i.e., losing at the ballot) would set the movement back.
We believed this to be true in July and we believed this to be true last week, but thanks to new information our Executive Committee is now convinced that there will be a swing at the ball in 2016 no matter what, i.e., we are convinced that if I-732 does not go forward then another ballot measure (an Initiative to the People) will launch in January and will have the strength to qualify for the Nov 2016 ballot. To quote CarbonWA co-director Kyle Murphy, “Our campaign has guaranteed there will be a carbon pricing measure on the ballot in 2016, the first one in the nation. We are only deciding which version we prefer and which version is the strongest. We have this option as a direct result of your hard work.”
That brings us to point #2 from July’s post:
2. Carbon Washington is advocating for a specific policy (a revenue-neutral carbon tax) and we are asking you to sign I-732 and collect signatures from your friends and neighbors and co-workers; the Alliance does not have a specific policy, so they are asking you to sign their “I believe in Washington” pledge.
The specifics of an alternative to I-732 are still being worked out, but the general outline is that it will be a “carbon fee”, with significant portions of the fee revenue going to fund clean energy projects, clean water projects, and forest health. The advantages of this alternative approach relate to point #4 from July’s post:
4. The Alliance thinks the most important result from the poll they conducted last month is that initial support for the Carbon Washington proposal is under 40% (i.e., 39%); Carbon Washington thinks the most important result from that poll is that support climbs to over 60% (61% Yes, 35% No, 4% Undecided) when the proposal is explained in simple language.
More recent polling confirms that I-732 starts in a hole (the latest numbers are 44% Yes, 40% No, 16% Undecided), climbs to a peak of about 60% Yes after a simple explanation, and ends up after Pro and Con messages at 48% Yes, 47% No, 5% Undecided. These numbers are much more challenging than you might think, especially because providing voters with a “simple explanation” will be extremely challenging in the midst of a Presidential election year and would require resources well beyond the existing capacity of the campaign.
In contrast, the alternative approach is likely to start out better (57% Yes, 36% No, 7% Undecided), climb to a peak at or above 65% Yes after a simple explanation, and end up after Pro and Con messages at about 53% Yes, 45% No, 8% Undecided. Supporters of the alternative approach believe that the measure can be tweaked to boost these numbers even more, but in any case it is clear that the alternative approach significantly out-polls I-732, especially with voters who are too distracted by the Presidential race and the rest of their lives to pay attention to anything else.
This brings me to the final point from July’s email, which was actually point #1 in that email and deserves pride of place as Point #1 in this email and in our campaign overall:
1. Carbon Washington believes that pursuing bipartisan climate action through a revenue-neutral approach is the right strategy in Washington State and in Washington, DC; the Alliance believes that the way to win is to use a revenue-positive package to unite the left.
We still believe in bipartisan climate action, and in fact we believe that there is a clear bipartisan path forward in Washington State: Pass a revenue-neutral carbon tax like I-732, and then follow British Columbia’s harmonious path forward by tweaking the measure as needed around the edges to address concerns as they arise. Doing so would eliminate the need for the less effective regulatory mandates that are currently being pursued due to the legislative stalemate on climate action.
Unfortunately, the enthusiasm for bipartisan climate action through a revenue-neutral tax shift is not at the level we had hoped to see after nine months of campaigning:
In short, the unfortunate truth appears to be that not enough people want to have a serious conversation about bipartisan climate action during the 2016 session.
That puts us in a difficult situation because I-732 requires a serious conversation. The reason that we are on the fence about turning in our signatures is simple: if we cannot have a serious conversation about climate action in the legislature then our measure will go to the voters, but most voters don’t have the time or the inclination to have a serious conversation about climate action amid all the other issues raised during a presidential election year.
Our top priority is and always has been to take action that reduces carbon emissions in Washington, that does so in a fair way, and that can be replicated in other states. Right now, it looks like the best shot at climate action is to go directly to the people with the alternative proposal because polling consistently shows that voters across the political spectrum like clean energy, clean air, and clean water, that voters are skeptical about tax reductions, and that voters like “fees” better than “taxes”. (As an aside: our revenue-neutral carbon tax could not have been called a “fee” because the revenue goes to reduce taxes rather than to fund pollution-reduction efforts.)
We wish that our Christmas present for all of you was a joyful announcement that I-732 would being going to the legislature in January with strong prospects for passing. Instead, we have a decision to make about the best way to create a strong price on carbon here in Washington State in 2016.
Because this campaign belongs to everybody who has put their time and heart and money into it, you deserve a say, so I am inviting you all to share your thoughts with me (and the rest of the Executive Committee) via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on the phone at 206-351-5719, or on the blog. There will also be a conference call for all volunteers on Tuesday (12/22) at 6pm. We will go until all questions are answered. To join the call, please RSVP by emailing email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to receive the code.
The Executive Committee will make a final decision on or before our scheduled signature turn-in date of W Dec 30. We are leaning towards embracing the alternative measure as the best shot of getting climate action in Washington State in 2016, but we have not yet made a final decision. (So if you still have signature sheets in your possession please send them in ASAP!)
One final note: Lots and lots of smart folks—from Steve Chu to Elon Musk to ExxonMobil to Wall Street CEOs to the Seattle Times editorial board, from dozens of economists and civic leaders around the state to nationally recognized thought leaders like Greg Mankiw and Thomas Friedman —agree that a price on carbon is key and that a revenue-neutral carbon tax is the best way to get there. What we have done—what you have done—is make it tangible: Here in Washington State we have taken that key, and we have turned the lock, and with incredible effort and against unbelievable odds we have pushed open the door to a better world. But it may not make sense to walk through that door just by ourselves, not when there’s an alternative that has a much better shot at creating a strong price on carbon here in Washington State in November 2016.
Without our effort—without your effort—the alternative measure would not be where it is today. Our incredible grassroots effort has convinced major funders and major environmental organizations to come to the table with a real willingness to take a swing at the ball and a real plan. We have created—you have created—a situation where it is now inevitable that in November 2016 Washington State will be the first state in the nation to put a carbon price on the ballot so that the people of this state can vote for strong climate action. Whichever path we take, the staff and Executive Committee of Carbon Washington are excited to push forward with the next phase of this campaign and we hope you are too. Onward!
Talk to your friends and neighbors about I-732