MONTPELIER — A Green New Deal for Vermont is being proposed by state Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington.
The idea is a local extension of the Green New Deal proposed at the federal level in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts.
Pollina, who is the chairman of the Vermont Progressive Party, said the plan would raise $30 million from the state’s top 5% of earners over five years.
The funds could be used for home weatherization and renewable-energy programs, encourage the use of electric vehicles and improve public transportation, he said.
Pollina said the plan would reduce the state’s carbon footprint by cutting fossil-fuel use to help meet Vermont’s net-zero goals and create new jobs.
“It puts people to work, and it puts money into the economy,” Pollina said.
Pollina said, unlike a carbon tax, the funding would come from the approximately 15,000 wealthy Vermonters earning between $200,000 and $500,000 who benefited the most from the federal 2017 tax and jobs bill. Under Pollina’s bill, they would contribute about $3,000 a year or 10% of their tax cuts to Vermont’s Green New Deal.
“People who can most afford it will pay,” Pollina said. “There’s no broad-based tax, there will be nobody who makes under $200,000 a year that will be affected by it all. It’s paid for by the wealthiest.
“Keep in mind two things: One is that these are people who have seen great big increases in their income. ... But also the top 5% income earners in Vermont are seeing these massive federal tax cuts, so they’re saving $237 million a year — that’s a lot of money,” Pollina said. “So what I’m asking them to do is to give back to Vermont.”
Pollina said the traditional argument that a carbon tax would hurt the economy or low-income people did not apply under his plan.
“It’s not an affordability issue; in fact, it’s going to make life more affordable because people’s homes are weatherized, and they’ll be able to save money,” Pollina said.
Pollina said his plan could help deal with the impact of climate change on the agricultural and recreational sectors in the state.
“This can actually help stop that kind of devastation,” Pollina said.
Pollina said the plan would be administered by the state treasurer and overseen by a 12-member board that would include four legislators and eight citizens with expertise in transportation or green energy technologies who would decide how the money would be spent.
However, Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, said he was concerned about a small body of people making decisions about tax policy in Vermont without the full input of the Legislature. Brock said he was also concerned that Pollina’s plan would cause wealthy Vermonters to leave the state, placing a greater burden on other taxpayers to fund public services.
“It’s an increase of about $30 million on Vermont’s upper-income citizens, but the use of the money would be decided in a fundamentally undemocratic manner,” Brock said. “There will be four members of the Legislature — that’s four people out of 180 members of the Legislature — and (eight) other citizens that have some apparent knowledge of or involvement in environmental issues, which means activists on one side of the political environmental spectrum. That to me is fundamentally undemocratic, and we don’t know what they’re going use the money for.
“The second problem is Vermont could absolutely benefit from more rather than less-wealthy people, and this is one more nail in the coffin of wealthy folks staying in Vermont,” he added, noting that Vermont’s progressive tax structure already made top earners pay more than others in the rest of the country.
Brock said he understood the concerns about climate change but said he would prefer to see more incentives to support the use of electrical vehicles and an audit of Efficiency Vermont to see how effective its weatherization program is in Vermont.
Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, has supported more electric vehicle and other incentive programs rather than carbon-tax based proposals that could hurt business or low-income Vermonters.
Pollina has proposed that two members of the oversight board of his plan should be members of the Vermont Youth Climate Congress, which has drafted a Youth Climate Declaration. That group was scheduled to hold a news conference at the State House at 10:30 a.m. Friday to address their concerns about climate change and then deliver the declaration to legislators.
Matt Henchen, a Vermont Youth Lobby mentor and civics teacher at Harwood Union High School, said the VYL members would meet Sunday to decide whether to officially endorse Pollina’s Green New Deal.
“However, the legislation is clearly in line with our stated principles and will likely be supported by our membership,” Henchen said. “We applaud Sen. Pollina for acknowledging the urgency of the climate crisis and proposing such a bold piece of legislation.”
“It’s their future we’re talking about — they’re the ones that are going to have to deal with climate change in a more serious way than we as adults have,” Pollina said. “I would say that, more than anybody, they deserve a seat at the table when decisions are being made.”
“Climate change is frightening but the inability of people ... to react is what’s really frightening ... not to make investments to fix it,” Pollina added.