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Amid GOP Criticism, Ram Walks Back Support For Carbon Tax

Chittenden County Rep. Kesha Ram, who is running for the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor, is walking back her support for a bill that would impose a carbon pollution tax after being publicly called on to do so by the Vermont Republican Party.

Ram is the only candidate for statewide office among the bill’s 27 sponsors, and Vermont Republican Party Chair Dave Sunderland singled her out in a statement on Thursday.

According to a report in VTDigger, one of the bill’s lead sponsors, Rep. Mary Sullivan, D – Burlington, said in a meeting of the legislature’s Joint Energy Committee that the concept of the tax is to discourage the use of fossil fuels:

“It’s a tax concept I certainly believe in: Tax bad things and try to get people to move away from these things,” Sullivan said. “You do bring in revenue, but you also reduce the impact to society that carbon emissions have. I think there are a lot of people out there who want to see the change this bill would bring about.”

Sunderland framed it differently in an open letter condemning the bill Wednesday:

“The Democrat’s ‘solution’ to living in a rural state where you have to drive to a job is to make it more expensive — perhaps impossible for some struggling rural Vermonters — to drive to your job,” he wrote.

The next day, Sunderland called on Ram and all other Democratic candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor to “renounce support” for the tax.

We call on all sponsors of the bill in the House of Representatives — especially Democrat Lt. Governor Candidate Rep. Kesha Ram — to support struggling Vermonters who are already carrying more than their fair share of Vermont’s affordability crisis and renounce support and sponsorship of this economically dangerous and regressive legislation.

In an interview Friday, Ram said that while she supports leaving “all conversations on the table to address the threat of climate change,” she would not vote in favor of the bill at this time.

“I think the lead sponsors as well as many of the co-sponsors and people who have been interested in this conversation know that it’s a long-term conversation and that it all has to be discussed in the context of knowing that cost-of-living is increasing for Vermonters and we cannot create significant economic dislocation at a time that Vermonters are already struggling,” she said.

Ram said any solutions the state comes up with to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must take cost of living into consideration.

“If this hurts Vermont’s working families without relieving the pressure somewhere else, then it’s not something I can support,” she said.

"If this hurts Vermont's working families without relieving the pressure somewhere else, then it's not something I can support." - Rep. Kesha Ram

  Ram also suggested the state focus its emission reduction efforts on home weatherization and efficiency.

“I think we need to be really focused on helping Vermonters afford their utilities and their home heating bills,” she said. “And that has a lot to do with investing in energy efficiency and really supporting Vermonters right in their pocket book with how we can make our aging housing stock more efficient and keep Vermonters warm.”

The bill Ram co-sponsored divides the proposed tax’s revenue into doing exactly those things – relieving financial pressure elsewhere and improving home efficiency.

Under the proposed law, 90 percent of the carbon tax’s revenue would “be allocated to tax credits and rebates” and the other 10 percent would be distributed between the state’s Home Weatherization Assistance Fund and the Vermont Energy Independence Fund.

Still, Ram said that if the bill came to a vote today, she would vote no.

“I signed on to support the conversation and have concerns about how the money is returned to working families,” she said, “so I do not think the bill is ready for my support at this point.”

Update 3:47 p.m. Ram’s opponent in the Democratic primary, Brandon Riker, said “addressing climate change is key,” but simply raising the cost at the pump isn’t necessarily the best approach right now.

“We have to look at transportation,” he said. “It’s the largest single producer of carbon emissions in this state.”

"We have to look at transportation. It's the largest single producer of carbon emissions in this state." - Brandon Riker

He said a gas tax that gives Vermonters an incentive to use other modes of transportation could work, but not if those other modes aren’t available.

Riker said that in some parts of the state, such as Chittenden County, there is enough public transportation that a gas tax might be successful in reducing carbon emissions by pushing more people to use public transportation.

In areas of the state with little or no access to public transportation, though, Riker said any gas tax is “going to end up being a regressive tax.”

Riker said he’d like to see more public transportation in the state, including the expansion of passenger rail service. He maintained, though, that he isn’t against a gas tax generally.

“A gas tax is not a bad idea if we can make sure that we’re not just taxing [Vermonters], but they have an option for public transportation,” he said.

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