Sometimes it’s tough being a progressive.
Now, if you’re a hardcore climate change denier, a coal roller or someone who takes great enjoyment in the hand wringing of earnest lefties, this column may amuse you.
But for those concerned with taking steps to combat human-made climate change, the conversation on the left over Initiative 732 — a carbon tax swap championed by the group Carbon Washington that will make its way to voters this November — has often been difficult to endure.
The ongoing debate — which has frequently pitted allies and fissured folks who usually agree — has felt a little like listening to your parents fight.
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And it’s hard to take a side.
On one hand, those who support I-732 — which is similar to British Columbia’s carbon tax and is designed to reduce carbon emissions over the next four decades by increasingly taxing major polluters — have very compelling reasons to do so.
As the Sightline Institute put it in an exhaustive three-part examination of the initiative published this month, “I-732 would launch Washington to a position of global leadership on climate change,” and “reorient Washington’s economy away from fossil fuels and toward low-carbon options.”
In an attempt to win bipartisan support — a tack that has had limited success, but has helped earn the endorsement of a handful of Republicans including Mark Miloscia and Steve Litzow — the initiative offsets the new carbon tax with cuts in the state sales tax and business and occupation tax, as well as tax credits for low-income families.
In supporting I-732, Sightline concluded that its sales-tax cut and funding dedicated for the Working Families Tax Credit would help “low-income families by making Washington state taxes less regressive.”
Perhaps most important to many, voting for I-732 is something tangible we can do to combat climate warming now. This growing sense of urgency likely had something to do with the 363,126 signatures I-732 filed — the ninth most in state history.
I think if you look at the people in our campaign. We all truly believe we have a moral obligation to fight climate change and we’re motivated by that.
Carbon Washington spokesperson Kyle Murphy
“We’re excited. We’re working really hard,” said Carbon Washington spokesman Kyle Murphy, who was selling I-732 at a Thursday meeting of the Pierce County Democrats.
“I think if you look at the people in our campaign,” Murphy continued. “We all truly believe we have a moral obligation to fight climate change, and we’re motivated by that.”
Still, not everyone is buying what I-732 is selling. And the disagreement is real and contentious. In a lengthy prologue to Sightline’s analysis, authors Kristin Eberhard and Alan Durning acknowledged, “The divisions — over both policy and political strategy — are agonizing and strongly felt.”
What’s not to like?
Well, for the left, this is where things get dicey. Arguments against I-732, it turns out, also are very compelling.
The naysayers, including the Washington State Labor Council and many other labor and minority groups, contend that the initiative fails to invest in the conversion to a clean-energy economy that’s required to really effect change.
They argue that I-732 doesn’t adequately take into consideration the disproportionate impact climate change has on communities of color and low-income people, and in fact didn’t really include historically underrepresented populations in the crafting of the initiative at all. They describe it as a largely white and affluent effort.
They say a carbon tax alone will be just one more regressive tax in a state full of them, arguing that those who make the least will end up being hardest hit.
And, based on the calculations of the state Office of Financial Management — which most recently concluded the initiative could cost Washington some $797.2 million over its first six years, far from the “revenue neutral” billing the sponsors have touted and stuck by — those opposed to I-732 argue that it will further compromise the state’s ability to fund things like basic education and mental health.
Rather than give the money collected via a carbon tax back through reductions in the sales tax and business and occupation tax, they’d prefer to see other investments made.
Basically, detractors believe we should hold out for something better.
“Our Executive Board voted to oppose it,” said David Groves, spokesman for the Washington State Labor Council. “We will be informing union members and their families about this position … and urging them to vote ‘no’ on I-732.”
With a little over two months left until the general election, it remains unclear whether the I-732 rift can be mended. Murphy describes his camp as “cautiously optimistic.” He tells me that “while we see posturing from different interest groups for the left and right, when we talk to voters, they get it.”
We have a lot of folks who are really concerned about the environment, and feeling like we’re running out of time to make significant changes. At first, there was a lot of conversation about, ‘Maybe (another initiative or option) will come up? But nothing has emerged. People are frustrated, and they feel like we have to do something.
Pierce County Democrats chair Linda Isenson
Locally, Pierce County Democrats chairwoman Linda Isenson said no one moved to endorse I-732 during Thursday night’s meeting, and it’s clear significant questions remain. However, she describes a membership that’s increasingly worried about climate change and perhaps increasingly willing to support something that may not be absolutely perfect.
“We have a lot of folks who are really concerned about the environment and feeling like we’re running out of time to make significant changes. At first, there was a lot of conversation about, ‘Maybe (another initiative or option) will come up?’ But nothing has emerged. People are frustrated, and they feel like we have to do something.”
That’s really the crux of the situation.
“Some folks kind of think it would be better to hold out and get their version of the whole enchilada down the road,” Murphy told. “We think that’s a mistake. … You can only do so much in a ballot initiative.”
The question liberal voters will have to answer in the coming months: Does I-732 do enough?