Progressives Embrace Regressive Taxes Despite Claim of ‘Helping the Poor’

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Vermont’s Progressive supermajority in the House and Senate in recent years has loudly proclaimed its enlightened superiority, and intentions to help the poor in all things. Yet its policies have accomplished the exact opposite, and dramatically expanded bureaucracy and budgets at the expense of helping regular Vermonters (especially our elderly population of retirees).

Progressive domination has brought Vermonters an increase in crime, a partisan brainwashing of children, a flurry of laws restricting property rights and increasing development costs (reducing affordable housing availability), and legalized prostitution that will expose young women to predators in the sex trade. But the most glaring failure of Vermont’s so-called Progressives is in taxation and fees: the Progressive arm of the Democrat Party has greatly burdened low-income Vermonters, always in the name of “helping the poor.”

In tax theory and common language, a “progressive” tax is one that impacts people fairly by being connected to their income level: A progressive tax is based on the taxpayer’s ability to pay. It imposes a lower tax rate on low-income earners than on those with a higher income.

As I have explained, this is the opposite of what Vermont’s net metering program has accomplished, which is to saddle Vermont ratepayers of all income levels with $37 million in extra rate charges to fund solar panels and EV cars for those able to afford them — leaving elderly residents in the economic ditch while the more affluent escape electric costs and road taxes entirely. This is patently regressive, but the Progressives don’t seem to care — they are determined to save the planet by forcing low-income Vermonters to subsidize Chinese solar panel and EV car manufacturing industries.

Recent efforts to tax heating oil reveal this clearly. Instead of cutting back on ambitious social and economic experimentation during COVID, Vermont’s Progressives engaged in a mindless free-for-all to take advantage of the crisis to accelerate their theoretical-yet-impossible agenda. This included a remarkable effort to tax heating oil to finance heat pumps, completely callous to the very real problems faced by Vermonters to afford heating their homes.

The effort to tax heating oil is well documented in public hearings. Progressive ringleader Sen. Mark MacDonald notoriously advised Vermonters who objected to a heating oil tax to “Get a blanket!” and rhetorically appealed to fellow Progs: “How can our opposition claim we are not helping the poor?”

In a revealing exchange, MacDonald shared his confusion about the issue with fellow Prog Senator Chris Bray:

“They — the Public Utilities Commission — in theory understand what we are not able to explain. We are asking them to design the thing that will work. But we can’t explain what we are asking them to design. … So, when John McClaughry says we’ve got a fuel tax coming — a carbon tax — I think John is correct. That’s what we’re doing. Isn’t that what we’re doing?”

Bray agreed: “That’s right. In essence you’re building into the price of the fuel the cost to help reduce the emissions.”

Sen. MacDonald doubled down on this intention at a recent candidate forum in Brookfield, in which he said to the crowd (at 2:30):

Vermonters cannot afford to continue using fossil fuels, and we need to have a system that helps low income Vermonters when every twenty or twenty-five years they’ve got to put in a new furnace or a new propane furnace. That’s the time to help them switch to renewable fuels. If they buy a new furnace they are trapped for the next twenty or twenty-five years and at the mercy of oil prices. We’ve gotta crack that nut and we’ve gotta do it now because Vermonters use more oil than any other heating source and it’s unaffordable.

Translation: low income Vermonters must be “helped” to switch to grid-dependent electricity for heat by banning oil furnaces or charging a fee for buying them as is now being attempted in Burlington. Heating fuels are already regressively taxed to fund weatherization projects despite protests by Democrats that these are regressive, not progressive.

Weatherization is implemented on a sliding income scale: EV cars, solar panels and heat pumps are simply too expensive for many Vermonters. The “system that helps low income Vermonters” is based on the heating oil tax that MacDonald embraces through the Clean Heat standard.

By the next forum discussion, the senator had shifted his position substantially, stating (at 6:47):

The Legislature spent two years coming up with a Global Warming Solutions Act, which was a exercise in planning how to deal with energy costs. Then it passed a Clean Heat Bill, which lays out future planning on how to deal with electric energy costs, but none of the actions necessary have taken place. [My opponent] Mr. Klar has brought up in his mailing ‘MacDonald voted to increase heating taxes’ — which is, there was never a vote to increase heating oil taxes, no one in the Legislature voted to increase heating taxes, and there was simply no such thing, So I was surprised to read that.

But as the above exchange between MacDonald and Sen. Chris Bray demonstrates, he understood when supporting the Clean Heat Bill that they were “building into the price of the fuel the cost to help reduce the emissions.” Indeed the Act calls in section 8126(a)(3) for a Report to measure “the fuel price impacts calculated in section 8125 of this title on low-income and moderate-income customers,” and in 8128 Section 3(h)(1) requires that:

The reports shall include, to the extent available, estimates of the impact of the Clean Heat Standard on customers, including impacts to customer rates and fuel bills for participating and nonparticipating customers.

Now Mark MacDonald claims “there was simply no such thing.” As winter and Election Day approach, Vermonters should examine the fine print and challenge so-called Progressives to stop pretending they are “helping the poor” by taxing heating oil and banning oil furnaces. They are not, and artificially raising prices on fuels will push Vermonters to burn more firewood.

And we know the Progressives don’t want that! Will they tax wood, or just ban wood stoves?

State Sen. Mark MacDonald reportedly recently suffered a stroke. John Klar and True North wish Mark a speedy recovery.

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