Salem 2013: 'Gut-and-Stuff' move could kicker-start Oregon carbon tax
By Lee van der Voo
An Oregon legislative maneuver could keep carbon tax supporters hopes alive for at least another session.
As talk of a carbon tax in Oregon continues, a bill aimed to study just that is moving through the legislature.
While the bill has sturdy legs, state leaders have changed the conversation to focus on carbon’s revenue-generating potential, scrapping at least two previous proposals and putting the carbon tax study in the hands of the state’s number-crunchers rather than its leading environmental agency.
Legislators started this session with at least two carbon tax bills on the table: House Bill 2792 and HB 2874, both of which proposed a carbon tax on fuel suppliers and on utilities that combust or sell fossil fuel for consumers. HB 2792 also made changes to other programs, aiming to illustrate how markets for renewable energy generation could kick forward absent incentives if carbon emissions were discouraged.
Weeks into the session, however, those efforts combined with Portland State University’s recent release of a report showing a carbon tax could also be a dependable revenue source to move the dialogue. The report almost immediately shifted the focus of talks about carbon tax from a mostly environmental discourse to a fiscal one.
Now, a “gut-and-stuff” effort of the dead-on-arrival corporate kicker bill SB 306 is steering a future study of a carbon tax to the state’s legislative fiscal office. It’s getting support from the Oregon Business Association as well as the Oregon Environmental Council, and looks likely to pass.
“If you’re going to study this thing, you need to study it from a rational point of view and also from a business and economic perspective,” said Sen. Brian Boquist, a Dallas Republican.
Boquist helped steer talks about tackling the study in a revenue arena after reviewing PSU’s study of a British Columbia carbon tax. The effort by the Northwest Economic Research Center, headed by former state economist Tom Potiowsky, indicated that Oregon leaves billions in potential tax revenue on the table without its own carbon tax.
The idea of such a levy was initially met with concern about impacts to heavy industry, and those concerns linger. But input on the gut-and-stuff from the Oregon Business Association helped focus a future study on balancing impacts across businesses, Boquist said.
“It’s not a tax bill, it’s basically a study bill to ensure you have input from all sides,” he said. “Revenue got involved with this to say that if we’re going to talk about this and get all of the facts straight, we need a nonpartisan entity to sit down and do that. That’s the nice thing about the legislative fiscal office is they don’t have a dog in the fight.”
The term “gut and stuff” http://www.leg.state.or.us/glossary.html#G refers to removing the text of a measure and inserting new language must still fall under the measure’s title even though the measure’s nature may change completely.
Andrea Durbin, the Oregon Environmental Council’s executive director, noted that the tax does represent a significant opportunity to earn revenue. The PSU study showed a carbon tax could generate $1.2 billion a year at $60 a ton with mid-range assessments.
But along with delivering revenue benefits, the tax also changed behavior in British Columbia, even while revenues stayed strong in the recession and were projected to last decades.
The Oregon Business Association also backs the bill. But the group’s Joel Fischer said the group also wants to know what effects a carbon tax would have on businesses. The group is convening leaders from Oregon’s largest companies, utilities and the renewable energy sector to direct the bill’s language examine the complexities of carbon taxes.
OBA wants to know more about such a tax’s effects on low-income households, urban and rural households and communities and key industries. It also wants to know about the costs, benefits and efficacy of existing laws that result in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
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