Politico Massachusetts Playbook

EXCLUSIVE: CARBON TAX WITH A TWIST — As we cross the first deadline of this legislative session — bill filing day — education funding and climate change have emerged as top issues. The challenge, of course, is how to get them done.

But Lexington state Sen. Michael Barrett has an idea to kill two birds with one stone: Why not direct some of the money generated by carbon pricing to fund education? A draft of Barrett’s carbon tax bill circulated to various environmental groups, viewed by POLITICO, would disburse 30 percent of money in a “carbon pricing trust fund” to education aid for cities and towns. Sixty percent of the money would go to the state transportation fund, 5 percent would go to a new environmental health and justice trust fund, and 5 percent would go toward electric vehicles, Barrett said.

“There is no question that the effort in the House needs a little bit of help. We have a serious problem with equitable school funding, we lack for major new sources of revenue. The solution lies in small contributions coming from multiple sources. Carbon pricing is not going to throw up megabucks, but the revenue stream can be part of ensuring that poor kids have a fair amount of resources. Nothing wrong with that,” Barrett said. “Let the conversation begin.”

Barrett’s bill, “An Act to combat climate change,” is based on legislation that was filed last session. Changes this time around, according to the draft, include language that provides the price on carbon emissions from transportation would rise to $60 per metric ton, and if officials opt for a “revenue positive” pricing approach like cap and trade, nearly a third of that money would be directed to education funding.

The somewhat unusual proposal is a gamble that energy behind education funding could give this carbon pricing effort a leg up in negotiations. But to direct money to education, the proposal funnels some funding away from reinvestment in renewable energy and climate mitigation. Andrew Gordon, legislative director of climate advocacy 350Mass, told me channeling some of the carbon pricing money toward education isn’t exactly the strategy he’d take, but he’s set on getting a bill passed this session.

Gordon said there’s support for state Rep. Jennifer Benson‘s carbon pricing bill that would use around 80 percent of the money on income-based rebates, and remaining funds would be put in a green infrastructure fund administered by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

“Because we are dealing with a carbon price, you need to make sure that you’re actually addressing a shift away from the status quo, which is why we’re even charging the price in the first place,” Gordon said. “I see where Sen. Barrett is coming from, I see the strategy he’s working with and I’m just looking forward to getting something across the finish line that is equitable and really advances our climate goals.”

-Stephanie Murray