Lawmakers Seek To Make Mass. 1st State With Carbon Tax

Setting out on what they say will be a long campaign, lawmakers are seeking to pass legislation that would tax carbon at $5 per metric ton.

The carbon tax backed by Rep. Tom Conroy (D-Wayland) and Sen. Michael Barrett (D-Lexington) would boost taxes on gasoline by about 3.5 cents per gallon, with the final amount to be determined by the Department of Revenue. The bill would also add new taxes to consumers of heating oil and firewood, though the lawmakers say much of collected tax revenue under their proposal would be given back to taxpayers through a proposed doubling of the personal income tax exemption and other measures.

“It’s a huge win for the environment if we were to pass this,” Conroy said. “Mike and I are very flexible about amending this bill. We sort of tossed it out there as a template.”

Under the bill (H 2532), which attracted 11 lawmakers to sign on as supporters, the Department of Revenue would calculate how the $5 per metric ton tax would be applied on items such as gasoline and heating fuel.

No state taxes carbon, though Oregon and Washington are studying the issue, and British Columbia, in Canada, has a carbon tax program, the lawmakers said.

The bill would raise between $350 million to $500 million though corresponding tax breaks in the bill would mean that state government would only retain $100 million of that, with the idea of funding public transit and other programs.

“We wrote the bill at a time that this year’s tax debate hadn’t happened yet,” Barrett said. “The question of whether we want the bill to produce net new revenue is now up for discussion.”

The Legislature included a carbon tax study in the new state budget, which Barrett said would be an “implementation study” preparing the state to begin levying the tax.

Gov. Deval Patrick returned the study portion of the budget, attaching to it legislation that would expand the state’s 5-cent bottle deposit law so it includes more containers than beer and carbonated beverages.

“That’s a complication that we welcome philosophically,” Barrett said.

“Philosophically, but perhaps not tactically,” Conroy said.

The expanded bottle bill has been a perennial issue in the State House and though it has cleared the Senate more than once, it has yet to pass the House.

Conroy said environmentalists are “on board” with the issue, and said it “has a lot of appeal to taxpayers” because a majority of the revenue is given back via circuit-breaker payments for seniors and the personal exemption, which serves to make the state’s income tax more progressive.

“We don’t expect any of this to pass the first go-around. We’re patient,” Barrett said. “This is as ambitious as you can be on the state level, and we want to see Massachusetts lead the country.”

This program aired on July 17, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.


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