The political world can be a weird place sometimes. Just last December, the Obama Administration stated in no uncertain terms that it would not be supporting a carbon tax. Yet a number of conservative luminaries, such as Art Laffer, have continued to push for a carbon tax as part of a larger package of tax reforms. Under conservative proposals, this new carbon tax would not simply be added to the existing tax burden, but would be paired with equivalent reductions in income, capital gains, or corporate taxes (hence the tax would be “revenue-neutral”).
While many conservatives have treated this concept with skepticism, others have been more sympathetic. For the idea to be viable, however, it would have to be acceptable not only to conservatives and libertarians, but also to those left of center.
So what do liberals think of the revenue-neutral carbon tax idea? Answer: not much. On Monday the New Yorker published the latest of Jane Mayer’s series of articles bashing the Koch brothers. This particular article focused on a proposed pledge whereby congressional candidates would commit themselves to “oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.” As worded, the pledge would of course leave open the possibility of imposing a carbon tax that was truly revenue neutral. For Mayer, this possibility may as well not exist:
Since most solutions to the problem of greenhouse-gas emissions require costs to the polluters and the public, the pledge essentially commits those who sign to it to vote against nearly any meaningful bill regarding global warning, and acts as yet another roadblock to action.
Likewise, David Roberts (of the popular environmentalist website Grist) recently responded to a Weekly Standard piece calling for a revenue-neutral carbon tax by sarcastically retorting: “Making an already regressive new tax even more regressive: now there’s something we can all agree on!”
Even if it was politically viable, the revenue-neutral carbon tax idea would still be problematic for a whole host of reasons. But without at least a modicum of support from liberals, these problems are a moot point. So far the results are not encouraging.