Campaign News

Why Voters Should Support I-732

Initiative 732 is an important first step to reducing pollution, making our tax code more fair, protecting low- and middle-income families, and enabling our state to prosper in a low-carbon future.

I-732 is based on a proven approach to reducing carbon emissions. Similar policies have been implemented successfully in British Columbia and elsewhere around the world. With I-732, we have an opportunity to pass the most effective climate policy anywhere in the country. At the same time, we’ll be implementing what may be the biggest anti-poverty measure in the state since the sales tax exemption for grocery store food was approved in 1977. If we don’t pass I-732 now, we may wait years before our state takes any action on climate change.

With the risk of dangerous climate impacts growing by the day, and Washington currently projected to miss even its modest 2020 greenhouse gas reduction target, continued inaction is unacceptable. Fossil fuel pollution imperils the health and economic prosperity of all Washingtonians. If no action is taken to reduce these damaging emissions, potential costs to our state from climate change impacts are projected to reach $3.8–$10.9 billion per year by 2020 due to increased wildfire, storm, food, energy, and public health costs as well as reduced salmon runs, agricultural production, and recreational business.

The decision of a number of environmental groups in our area not to support I-732 is disappointing and puzzling. We have a moral obligation to protect our children and future generations, leaving them a world that’s cleaner, healthier and safer. It is our sincere hope that these groups will change course, support I-732, and help us lead the fight against climate change, promote clean energy and achieve social justice now.

As environmental activist Bill McKibben recently told a crowd at Seattle’s Town Hall: “Our job is to push harder than we’ve ever pushed before.”

Here is our response to three specific objections concerning I-732:

Objection #1: It relies solely on economic signals to drive down emissions. This does not ensure that we will achieve the pollution reductions that are required in state law, but are currently unenforced.

Our Response: I-732 provides a financial incentive right now for fossil fuel polluters to move in the direction of clean energy. As the environmental groups themselves point out, state law isn’t working. We are not on target to achieve our state’s carbon-reduction goals. Future legislative sessions or citizen initiatives may consider whether to cap carbon emissions or invest more funds in clean energy. Both ideas are compatible with I-732. But those are matters for future years, possibly as distant as 2020 or even further. We can’t wait that long.

Economists worldwide agree that carbon pricing (especially via tax policy) is an extremely effective mechanism to decrease the use of fossil fuels and promote clean energy. Dr. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, recently told The New York Times: “There is an … obvious consensus that putting a price on carbon pollution is by far the most powerful and efficient way to reduce emissions.”

Objection #2: Despite the initiative’s intent to be revenue neutral, the state Office of Financial Management (OFM) has analyzed the policy and found that enacting it would create a $900 million shortfall in the state budget over the next four year budget cycle.

Our Response: There are many reasons to disagree with the OFM fiscal note for I-732 as it is a poor estimate of expected revenue and OFM has not adhered to the actual policy text. The bottom line is that I-732 was designed to be revenue neutral. If the initiative is read as written to refer to calendar years, the first year it is revenue positive by $230 million. The maximum negativity over two years is $20 million, mere budget dust in the larger fiscal picture and in the face of billions of dollars in projected climate disruption costs.

Once I-732 is implemented, the legislature can revise the initiative with a simple majority after two years. Even if we assume OFM’s numbers are correct, the discrepancy is small and adjustments can easily be made.

Objection #3: Instead of strategically reinvesting revenue into clean energy, which would accelerate the transition from fossil fuels, and into an equitable transition for workers and disadvantaged communities, I-732 devotes the majority of the carbon tax revenue to tax cuts.

Our Response: I-732 is a proven approach to reducing carbon emissions. I-732 also promotes social justice and job growth in several ways:

  • It would fund the Working Families Tax Rebate, a long-time priority of progressives, at a higher level than any other proposal, and would return up to $1,500 a year in cash to 400,000 low-income households.
  • Reducing the sales tax by a full percentage point protects middle-income earners and small business owners who are suffering from years of income stagnation, compounded by the Great Recession.
  • An analysis by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) predicts a carbon tax proposal like I-732 would create thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in economic activity, while reducing carbon pollution to below 1990 levels.

Today, Washington has the most regressive and unjust state tax system in the country. I-732 moves our state tax code significantly in the direction of progressivity and justice. In fact, the lowest 40 percent of households benefit significantly from I-732. You can see how I-732 would impact you with the free Carbon Tax Calculator developed at the University of Washington.

It’s Time to Act on Climate Change Now

The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy has put an outline of its own proposal on the table. If I-732 passes in November, as we believe it will, the parts of the Alliance proposal that receive the most support during the organization’s upcoming listening tour and an economic feasibility study can readily be added to I-732 by the legislature.

But this year, in Washington, there is only one measure to vote on which actually reduces carbon pollution: I-732. We can’t wait for consensus to develop around a perfect plan that does it all. We need to start making progress now by providing a powerful incentive for fossil fuel polluters to improve efficiency and choose clean energy right now. I-732 creates that incentive.

If you’re concerned about climate change, please vote Yes on I-732. It’s the only path in our state to put a dent in climate change now. As CNN’s John Sutter recently wrote, “Carbon Washington’s proposal is a brilliant first step.”