by Rob Roper
The Carbon Tax Warriors in the Vermont State House aren’t going away (at least not the ones who weren’t voted out last November). The latest trumpet call to battle came from Rep. Molly Burke (D-Brattleboro) in a WKVT interview (around the 22 minute mark) in which she promises to “absolutely” fight for passage of the Carbon Tax.
However, 2017 has seen a pretty dramatic shake up in Montpelier with a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House, Senate President Pro Tem, as well as several committee chairs. Though the new Speaker of the House, Mitzi Johnson (D-S. Hero) sounds a lot like defeated gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter when speaking of the Carbon Tax by refusing to say if she would support it or not, we can try to read the tea leaves through her actions thus far.
During the last biennium the bulk of the advocacy and work for a Carbon Tax took place in the House Natural Resources & Energy Committee. That no longer exists, changed and split into a new Energy & Technology Committee and an expanded Fish, Wildlife & Natural Resources Committee.
Johnson put Rep. Steve Carr (D-Brandon) in charge of the new Energy Committee, replacing retiring Tony Klein as Chair, which can only be a good thing. No one was more zealous than Klein about passing a Carbon Tax. Also gone from that committee are Carbon Tax sponsors Reps. Kesha Ram (failed bid for Lt. Governor) and lead sponsor Mary Sullivan (D-Burlington), whom Johnson moved to the new Fish, Wildlife and Natural Resources committee. Moving onto the Energy Committee is Rep. Corey Parent (R-St. Albans) who ran as a staunch opponent of the Carbon Tax in 2016, trouncing his opponent on the issue. This is generally positive as any Carbon Tax legislation would certainly have to pass through a committee with “energy” in it’s title.
However, Johnson did end up putting both lead sponsors of the Carbon Tax , Sullivan and David Deen (D-Westminister) together on the new Fish, Wildlife & Natural Resources Committee, where who knows what mischief they can concoct.
Changes on the Senate side are not so benign. Newly minted Senator Chris Pearson (P/D-Chittenden), who led the House Climate Caucus as a representative, will join Chris Bray (D-Addison), Brian Campion (D-Bennington), and Mark MacDonald (D-Orange), and John Rogers (D-Essex) on the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee. All but Rogers are reliable climate warriors , though MacDonald indicated some skittishness about the Carbon Tax after incumbents in his Orange County district, Reps. Patsy French, Sarah Buxton, Susan Hatch-Davis, all lost re-election bids largely over the Carbon Tax issue.
In conclusion, the Carbon Tax issue is not going away, but efforts to promote it will likely shift from the house to the senate, and, with a Scott veto threat lurking, strategies will shift from short term to longer term passage.
We’ll keep watching closely!
– Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute