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Monday, February 18, 2019
HomePolicyCarbon Tax Salesmanship: A Case Study in Political Dishonesty

Carbon Tax Salesmanship: A Case Study in Political Dishonesty

Carbon tax trading emission global market graphic concept. (Photo: AdobeStock)
Carbon tax trading emission global market graphic concept. (Photo: AdobeStock)
Carbon tax trading emission global market graphic concept. (Photo: AdobeStock)

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I don’t believe in using dodgy numbers or nonsensical analysis – even if that would help my side in a policy debate.

And it goes without saying that I also don’t like when the other side is dishonest. But I’m not talking about my left-leaning friends who have genuine (albeit misguided) views on things such as Keynesian economics or the minimum wage.

I’m talking about people who deliberately dissemble and prevaricate in hopes of advancing their policy agenda.

Consider, for instance, the new carbon tax that has been introduced by Congressmen Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Patrick Rooney (R-FL). The core features of the bill are:

  • A $15-per-ton carbon tax that increases $10 each subsequent year until it reaches $100.
  • A new entitlement program giving money to all legal American residents, including children.
  • A new tax on consumers who buy imports from nations without similar taxes on energy usage.
  • A supposed adjustment and easing of existing regulations governing carbon emissions.

There’s obviously a serious policy debate to have about both the general concept as well of the individual components of this type of legislation, and I’ve periodically added my two cents to the discussion.

But what irks me is that the sponsoring lawmakers are openly and deliberately lying about a key part of their plan. Here’s the relevant section from their talking points.

The claim about “revenue neutrality” is a stunning level of dishonesty, even by Washington standards.

At the risk of stating the obvious, if the government imposes a tax and then also creates a program to give money to people, that’s not revenue neutrality.

Was ObamaCare “revenue neutral” because all the new taxes were balanced out by the handouts and subsidies that the law created for the big insurance companies?

Of course not.

And a new carbon tax doesn’t magically become “revenue neutral” because new revenues are matched by new spending.

To be sure, supporters can argue that their plan is “deficit neutral,” and that would be legitimate, even though I would argue that this wouldn’t be the case in the long run because of the adverse economic impact of new taxes and new spending.

But “revenue neutral” is a bald-faced lie.

The Daily Caller reported on this amazing example of deceptive advertising, citing the good work of Paul Blair of Americans for Tax Reform.

The bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus claims it is pushing a “revenue-neutral” carbon tax, but legislation proposed Thursday would hike taxes by at least $1 trillion over the next decade… Florida Reps. Ted Deutch, a Democrat, and Francis Rooney, a Republican, reintroduced a bill Thursday that would place a $15-per-ton tax on carbon emissions in 2019. The tax would rise by $10-a-year increments until it hits nearly $100 per ton. …Though Rooney claims the tax is “revenue-neutral,” the plain text of the bill does not include any reciprocal tax cuts to balance out the burden of the added tax on emissions… “Historically and for anyone engaged in tax policy, the definition of ‘revenue-neutral’ is and always has been if you increase a tax, the amount of revenue it generates must be offset by an equal tax cut elsewhere,” Blair said. …Blair said…that the “apology checks” sent as carbon dividends will be treated as new spending and do not negate a new tax burden.

By the way, just in case anyone thinks I’m imposing some weird, libertarian-ish, meaning to “revenue neutral,” you may want to look at how the left-leaning Tax Policy Center defines the term.

Revenue-neutral. A term applied to tax proposals in which provisions that raise revenues offset provisions that lose revenues so the proposal in total has no net revenue cost or increase.

I often disagree with the folks at the Tax Policy Center, but I’ve never questioned their honesty.

So when we both agree on the definition of ‘revenue neutral,” this is slam-dunk confirmation that it’s preposterously dishonest to count new spending as an offset to a tax increase.

P.S. Some of my friends and allies who supported the Fair Tax sometimes played fast and loose with the truth. That plan would have required the government to send “prebate” checks to households to partly compensate people for the new tax, yet supporters would argue that this expenditure shouldn’t count as a new entitlement program.

While my first choice for tax reform is the flat tax, I certainly think a national sales tax would be a far better way to tax than the mess we have today, but that did not justify mischaracterizing the plan.

By
Contributing Economist

Daniel J. Mitchell is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, and a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy. Mitchell’s articles can be found in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Investor’s Business Daily, and the Washington Times. He is the author of "The Flat Tax: Freedom, Fairness, Jobs, and Growth," and co-author of "Global Tax Revolution: The Rise of Tax Competition and the Battle to Defend It."

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