A huge, unwieldy tax increase in disguise

Editor's note: This was written in response to our editorial of Feb. 4.

Oregonians are being sold a squirming pig in a burlap sack with the deceptively named "Clean Energy Jobs Bill." It’s actually a $700-a-year tax on each Oregon family of four.

The Democratic majority in the Legislature is intentionally masking this $700 million-a-year tax increase as a climate-friendly levy on evil out-of-state polluters.

Plus they’re skirting the law that requires a three-fifths majority to pass tax increases. Shame.

This is a punishing, regressive tax. It falls hardest on working families. Remember when Democrats were the party of working people?

Let’s look at whose pockets that $700 million comes from.

Nearly half emanates from a carbon tax on energy utilities — the folks who provide electricity and natural gas to heat our homes. Regulated utilities pass their costs right along to consumers. We pay.

This bill bumps utility costs roughly $30 a month for our family of four. About $10 a month will show up on residential bills. The grocery stores, employers and such hit with higher rates have to pass them along to stay in business. We pay.

What about greenhouse gases from transportation? Where’s the carbon tax there? Cleverly hidden.

The bill targets "importers of transportation fuels," which means the distributors who supply our gas stations. It amounts to $350 a year for each family (four, again). How much will Oregon gas go up at the pump? The bill glosses right over that. So do the bill’s crafty supporters.

The new gas taxes go into a special "Transportation Decarbonization Fund." Then they theoretically go to local street maintenance, supposedly to improve energy efficiency. We’ll see how that works in the well-oiled ODOT-contractor machine.

The bill has an exemption for "energy-intensive, trade-exposed companies." This refers to enterprises that might leave the state if they had to bear the full brunt of this measure. This is about 40 percent of the total. Maybe our local wood products plants qualify. Maybe not. The bill tells the Environmental Quality Commission to hire a consultant to figure it out. Afterwards.

The $700 million collected under this measure gets handed out by no less than four committees, totaling at least four dozen members, representing all manner of special interests. The money is allocated in and out of oodles of funds, with 20 percent for this category and 30 percent for that one. Dizzying. Might even be costly and wasteful. You think?

Useful projects might come from this unwieldy mishmash. But not a single kindergarten teacher will be hired. Not a single low-income housing complex will be built.

Legislators are elected to allocate tax dollars thoughtfully. They shirk their duties when they don’t decide how our tax money is spent, and instead build convoluted, deceptive structures like the ones in this bill.

This "Clean Energy Jobs Bill" needs serious redesign, or scrapping. Badly.

— Allen Baker lives in Ashland.

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