[On November 1, we published a guest editorial that takes a different view of this subject. It's from the No on 1-732 campaign.]
Want to fight climate change? Want to make polluters pay for the damage they cause our air, water, trees, and health? Want to give that money back to the people of Washington, especially the poorest among us?
Well, welcome to Initiative 732!
Last week, The Stranger endorsed I-732, an initiative on your ballot that does all the things above. We’re glad they did.
Climate change is here, now, and it’s urgent. The North Pole was above freezing on January 1st this year. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is bleaching and dying. Our own state is seeing it in our burning forests, acidifying oceans, and more frequent droughts. We’re running out of time. And we need to act.
After The Stranger’s official endorsement, four members of the Stranger Election Control Board made the decision to publicly disagree. (Thus aligning themselves with the conservative, anti-transit Seattle Times editorial board on this one.) They criticized I-732 on some points that have already been debunked, like a bogus “revenue hole” (nope), and how BC’s carbon tax supposedly doesn’t work (it's working quite well).
Now, Dan Savage says you should ignore them, listen to the official Stranger endorsement, and vote Yes on I-732. Great!
But don’t just take Dan’s word for it. Heck, don’t even take our word for it! Instead, let’s listen to the experts on climate change. What do they have to say?
• More than 50 University of Washington climate scientists say you should vote Yes on I-732 if you want to fight climate change.
But hey, those folks are just scientists, right? What do they know about climate change!
• Elon Musk, who chairs the top solar company in the US (Solar City) and the top electric vehicle company in the world (Tesla), says we should have a carbon tax.
• Bernie effing Sanders says “a carbon tax must be central to our strategy” to fight climate change.
As we’ve said before, “Washingtonians who care about climate change, who care about clean air and water, who care about lifting people out of poverty, who care about making big polluters responsible for the damage they cause, who care about helping working families, should be passionately shouting from the rooftops in favor of I-732.”
Fighting climate change is only half of I-732, though. Washington has the most regressive state tax code in the country. We tax poor people more, and rich people less, than any other state. Ridiculous, right? And a lot of that is the state sales tax, which affects poor people more than rich people.
I-732 fights that, too. It uses money that big polluters will pay to cut the sales tax by a full point. That’ll put hundreds of dollars each year in the pockets of individuals and families across the state.
I-732 also funds the Working Families Tax Rebate (WFTR) that’ll send checks of up to $1,500 a year to 460,000 low-income working families. Our friends in progressive circles have called funding this program a “top progressive priority.” Unfortunately, after eight years of trying, they’ve failed to get it done.
I-732 doesn’t just fulfill that top progressive priority. It goes above and beyond, funding the WFTR at a 25 percent match of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), or two and a half times the size that progressives have been working for. This match has the potential to be the biggest anti-poverty program in our state. In fact, the opponents of I-732 unsuccessfully lobbied the legislature last year to fund just a 10 percent EITC match. We’d call our approach pretty darn aggressive, and progressive.
Now, despite that, some are saying that I-732 still doesn’t do “enough” for low-income communities, or that it doesn’t do “enough” to improve people’s health. Honestly, there’s a lot more to do than we can fit into any one bill or initiative. At the same time, I-732 is incredibly progressive and will do amazing things (not every thing, but amazing things) for the financial health and physical health of low-income communities and communities of color:
• I-732 reduces carbon pollution. That means less of other types of pollution that go with it, like smog, particulates, soot, and the chemicals that cause acid rain. Who does that type of pollution affect most today? Low-income households, who live closer to freeways, factories, and power plants. They get the biggest health benefits out of the pollution reductions.
• The Working Families Tax Rebate in I-732 invests $1 billion over the first six years in direct checks of up to $1,500 a year to low-income working families. (Those checks are funded by the taxes we make big polluters pay, thank you very much.)
• Speaking of health, here’s a pretty amazing study about how programs like the Working Families Tax Rebate improve the health of low-income families and kids. Dollar for dollar these programs are some of the most effective you can find.
• Still don’t believe us? Here’s another piece arguing that the EITC (which I-732 boosts through the Working Families Tax Rebate) is the best anti-poverty program in the country, and calling for progressives to "march in the streets” in support of it. Well, when you vote for I-732, you’re “marching” in support of it too.
• And guess who else really likes the EITC that I-732 boosts? President Obama.
Now, let’s be clear. I-732 is neither the beginning nor the end of climate policy. It won’t solve climate change all by itself. And it’s neither the beginning nor the end of progressive policy. It won’t solve poverty or income inequality all by itself.
But it’s a hell of a lot better than the status quo on both those fronts. Let’s pass it, then work together to build on it, to fight climate change faster, to fight poverty harder, and to lead the country on both fronts.
Because we don’t have time to wait.
Ramez Naam is an immigrant, a person of color, a progressive, a climate and energy campaigner, and a passionate supporter of I-732.