Mrowicki: Tax reform and climate action can go hand in hand

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The Reformer's recent editorial holding up concerns for lower income Vermonters in the plans for tax reform and climate action in Vermont, are well taken "Address our fossil fuel dependence, but not on the back of the poor," April 14).

Those concerns may not fully make note of the intent about making our tax code even more progressive than it is, and are an essential inspiration for the plan. Another is that the cost of global warming just keeps rising. The cost of inaction is not only hurting people, but business.

The level of worldwide concern for these issues has reached a level to where, now comes, James Baker, stalwart Republican — Reagan Chief of Staff and Bush Secretary of State — heralding the dangers of global warming and joining together with other conservative Republicans as the Climate Leadership Council. The group, headed by Baker, George Shultz and Henry Paulson among others, offers a plan to incentivize businesses to limit carbon production, by taxing carbon at its source and returning that money in dividends back to consumers.

And, so, under the banner of politics makes strange bedfellows, Vermont Democrats and Progressives, in cooperative efforts with the Vermont Natural Resources Council, 350VT and other groups recognizing the threat of global warming, are joining efforts to include addressing long awaited tax reform in Vermont. Similar to the Baker initiative, Vermont Democrats and Progressives want to actually do something about reforming our tax code and return tax money to Vermonters.

The four-pronged effort will strengthen the Vermont economy, help low- and middle-income Vermonters transition to clean energy and cut pollution, by eliminating the sales tax. This initiative phases out Vermont's regressive sales tax, making border businesses and Vermont brick-and-mortar stores more competitive with neighboring states and online retailers that don't collect or remit Vermont's sales tax.

Property tax relief lowers the statewide property tax, while diversifying and stabilizing Vermont's education financing system.

Income tax reform cuts income taxes for every Vermonter and Vermont business and doubles the Earned Income Tax Credit — one of Vermont's most powerful anti-poverty initiatives that assists over 40,000 low-income families each family.

Carbon dividends provide a quarterly dividend check to every Vermonter and Vermont business to help speed the transition to the clean energy future.

The bills strengthen the economy by discouraging the import of fossil fuels from distant states and countries at a cost of about $2 billion each year. They encourage conservation, efficiency and locally generated renewable energy. This keeps more of our energy dollars local, spurring innovation and creating jobs-mindful as ever, that the best social program is a job. They each prioritize low- and middle-income Vermonters by progressive tax relief. And they all cut pollution — helping Vermont do its part in the fight against climate change and protecting Vermont's way of life for future generations.

As the details of the plans come together, there are certainly valid concerns of how this affects lower income Vermonters and those whose livelihood depends on fossil fuel — including Vermont agriculture. Allowances for these groups will be part of the final mix.

Fact is, though, tax reform, the primary part of this plan, will bring short and long term benefits to lower income Vermonters. Tax reform is essential to making Vermont affordable for all, to keep the economy moving forward and to cleanup our planet. Tax reform is geared to be progressive towards lower income Vermonters and the bottom line is that they will make out better, with lowering/eliminating the sales tax, which is the most regressive tax on lower income Vermonters. Similar reductions in education/property tax and income tax, as well as dividends paid out to Vermonters, (as epsoused by James Baker) will be of benefit to all.

Thanks to the Reformer for holding up concerns for lower income Vermonters. Those concerns are shared and included in these plans to make sure this doesn't hurt,

but benefits those Vermonters that need it most. That our state and planet will also benefit adds to the sense of this adding up to a win-win for Vermont.

Mike Mrowicki represents Putney, Dummerston and Westminster in the Vermont House of Representatives. He can be contacted at MMrowicki@leg.state.vt.us. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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