Baker’s walk on the wild side
Leads the charge for TCI and higher gas prices
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER’S all-in embrace of the transportation climate initiative is another step away from his shrinking Republican base and a tacit admission that the state needs more transit funding.
The transportation climate initiative, or TCI, places a price on the carbon contained in gasoline and diesel fuels and requires wholesale distributors to pay allowances for the right to sell their product. The cost of the allowances will likely be passed on to drivers in the form of higher prices at the pump, and the revenue from the allowances will flow back to the participating states to be used for efforts to deal with climate change.
Twelve northeast and mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia are engaged in TCI deliberations. A vaguely worded memorandum of understanding was issued Tuesday and a more detailed version will be issued in the spring, when the participating states will formally begin deciding if they want to sign on. That process could take most of 2020 and 2021, with the initiative itself starting as early as 2022.
Baker likes TCI because it’s got scale (72 million people, 52 million vehicles), it’s technically not a tax (backers call it a cap-and-invest program), and it’s a known commodity (TCI is patterned after a similar cap-and-invest program for electricity).
It’s easy to see why Baker the policy wonk likes TCI, but it’s a bit of a walk on the wild side for him politically.
Baker in 2014 opposed indexing the gas tax to the consumer price index because it would mean automatic increases in the gas tax – no action by the Massachusetts Legislature required. TCI turns decisions that could translate into increases at the gas pump over to a group of states – no action by the Massachusetts Legislature required.
A chart issued with Tuesday’s modeling results indicated TCI would steadily increase gasoline prices between 2022 and 2032. Reducing emissions by 20 percent would increase gas prices initially by 5 cents a gallon and roughly 9 cents a gallon by the end of the decade. To cut emissions 22 percent would require an initial 9 cent-a-gallon price hike in 2022 and roughly 20 cents a gallon by 2032. Reducing emissions 25 percent would trigger a 17-cent-a-gallon price hike initially and 30 cents a gallon by the end of the decade.Baker has built an eclectic base of support for the transportation climate initiative. Backers include most mainstream business groups as well as lefty enviros. His chief opposition is coming from some fellow Republicans on Beacon Hill and far-right fiscal conservatives.
TCI fits the moderate brand of wonky Republicanism Baker is practicing these days as he distances himself from the pro-Trump state Republican Party and moves to the center. It’s a position he would have felt uncomfortable in years ago, but now seems right at home.