Utah Democrat says the state should start taxing carbon emissions

Carbon Emissions 01

A state House Democrat wants to completely change how Utah deals with carbon emissions, taxing them directly while giving all kinds of tax breaks to a variety of carbon-producing businesses and low-income and senior citizens.

SB304 is a huge bill, “quite complicated,” says sponsoring Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake.

And Briscoe, a former member of House minority leadership, doubts it will be passed this year.

“But we need to start talking about this” – how to change carbon emission taxation. “Other states are doing this, and Utah should also.”

Introduced Monday, SB304 doesn’t yet have a fiscal note. But Briscoe says it will be in the “hundreds of millions of dollars” – as sales and income taxes are reduced in many areas, while carbon-producing businesses are taxed in new ways.

“I prefer to call it carbon pricing,” says Briscoe, a retired teacher and union leader.

Three years ago he tried a carbon-production, cap-and-trade approach, which went nowhere.

Now he is taking a different approach, one several progressive states are looking at, and a few have actually adopted.

If the Republican/conservative politicians of Utah don’t want to talk about a carbon tax, then how about “a whole lot of tax cuts” – which are sprinkled throughout the 1,734-line bill.

In fact, there are so many tax cuts proposed in HB304, Briscoe can’t even list them all without a crib sheet he has prepared (but didn’t have on him when UtahPolicy.com interviewed him Monday on the House floor.)

Overall, Briscoe says his bill would bring into Utah coffers $40 million a year in new tax revenue (while cutting many taxes and imposing a carbon emissions tax on all kinds of “producers.”)

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert wants to take $100 million in one-time tax surpluses this year – the state sees $1.3 billion in one-time and ongoing tax surpluses this general session – and earmark it for air pollution programs.

“Do this (SB304) and you’d have $40 million in ongoing revenues each year. That’s how you fight air pollution and carbon emissions,” said Briscoe.

Here are just a few tax cuts in the big bill:

— Utah has a small state sales tax on unprepared food, a little over 1 percent. Do away with that, says Briscoe.

— Remove the sales tax on a number of other items, like electric and natural gas bills for consumers.

— Double the tax exemption for senior citizens from $400 a year to $800 a year.

— Cut the income tax for businesses outside of the energy production sector.

“Bottom line, my bill says if you want to reduce carbon emissions – and we all do – then tax carbon emissions.”

That will move the market to non-carbon producing energy, be it solar or other forms.

Yes, Utah citizens would likely see increases in carbon-based energy production, like electrical and natural gas.

But that’s the movement of the industry, anyway.

Within a few years, said Briscoe, Utah may see only one large coal-fired electrical generating plant – with most moving to natural gas which is less polluting.

Utah will be left in the carbon-producing “dust” if it doesn’t change, said Briscoe.

For example, already California has a law stating that construction equipment used by private firms doing large, public work – like rebuilding freeways – must meet low-diesel emission equipment.

And so older, higher polluting equipment is being shipped into Nevada and Utah, and used there – bringing more pollution, says Briscoe.

“The chances of this bill passing this year are not great,” he adds. But it is time to have public discussions on what is coming in carbon-reducing taxation.