State Representative Bill Straus, chairman of the House Transportation Committee : the TCI gas price hike is a tax and can only happen if the legislature approves.

—- —- —-

The leaders of twelve Northeast states have been seeking a regional carbon tax program they call the “Transportation Climate Initiative.” The participating states are: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia, “working together to explore potential regional policies to improve transportation systems and reduce pollution.” We are skeptical of the mission and even more so of the details.

The initiative — whose processes and progress you can read all about HERE : — promises to raise the pump price of gasoline by as much as 17 cents a gallon. For those who drive to work and on errands — by far the majority of us — said tax hike would likely add $ 27 a month to our gas costs (assuming 40 gallons of gas a week; I use almost double that.) It doesn’t sound like much, but for most of us, living on budgets with scant flexibility, an extra $ 27 a month comes directly out of budget essentials.

It’s even worse for rural drivers, who have to travel longer distances than most of us to get to almost everything; and rural residents are likely to not have anything like tghe incomes earned by city denizens.

Governor Sununu of New Hampshire, a largely rural state, recently announced that he is withdrawing his state from the TCI group : Said Sununu, ““I will not force Granite Staters to pay more for their gas just to subsidize other state’s crumbling infrastructure,” said Governor Chris Sununu. “New Hampshire is already taking substantial steps to curb our carbon emissions, and this initiative, if enacted, would institute a new gas tax by up to 17 cents per gallon while only achieving minimal results. This program is a financial boondoggle and the people of New Hampshire will never support it.”

Sununu asserts that New Hampshire is already taking several steps to curb vehicle emissions. The same is true in Massachusetts and very likely applies to the other “TCI” States. In which case, why is the TCI needed at all ? From what I can tell by reading the TCI website (linked above)’s updates, the ONLY unique feature, beyond what states are already doing, is policy uniformity. There’s certainly advantage to uniformity in any public policy reform, but said advantage is dissipated by local decision making about locally different conditions. When you read the TCI annal, you find that all the TCI really is, is a carbon tax. Carbon tax is not a new idea. Environmentalists have promoted a carbon tax for at least a decade. You know the drill : activities that produce excess carbon emissions, over the goal established for all, pay a “tax” to those whose activities emit less than the median. Under-norm emitters can also “sell” their carbon credits to excess emitters.

The major critique levied so far upon carbon taxes is their regressive nature. low income people are less able to buy electric vehicles, or to solarize their residences — many low wage families rent, not own — and less able to buy newer-model, more energy efficient gasoline vehicles. This objection stands, against all carbon tax proposals; the TCI, however, adds a new objection : how can a TCI carbon tax be imposed by executive order, as is the intention of eleven Governors still participating ?

I don’t ever like to find myself on the opposite side of an issue from Governor Baker : but that’s where I am on this matter. I agree with State Representative Straus, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, that the TCI gas price hike makes the same change to gas prices that a legislatively approved tax would make; and that it must, therefore, be submitted to the legislature for approval — executive order won’t do. Straus is right. In any case, why is the TCI needed at all ? There are far more useful environmental reforms to transportation  than the heavy hand of a carbon tax via gas price hike. The MBTA intends eventually to electrify its entire fleet of buses. Electricity charging stations are coming to Massachusetts, thus allowing ordinary people to actually use an electric vehicle. Electric commuter rail will replace diesel engines sooner rather than later.

Electrification stands at the threshhold of convenient availability. Not everyone will be able to afford an electric, but if even half of all car owners switch to electric, the effect on carbon emissions will be far more dramatic than anything achievable by either a tax or a tax equivalent. That’s where I stand right now. I’m skeptical of the TCI as an idea an d as planned for implementation.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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