Funding Our Green New Deal
Eliminating our climate pollution by 2030 will cost billions of dollars. But, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stilgitz has said, we can’t afford not to invest in a Green New Deal: civilization is at stake.
Yes, it will cost at least $1.6 billion to transition Seattle’s 160,000 fossil fuel-powered homes to electric heating. Yes, the weatherization of our housing stock will cost hundreds of millions. Yes, the cost of building tens of thousands of units of affordable housing will also be high. All of this, however, is far less expensive than not reducing our climate pollution.
In recent years the country has lost almost 2% of GDP in weather-related disasters. The cost to our health from climate-related diseases will also run into the tens of billions of dollars. Then there is the inestimable cost in human lives lost, species gone extinct, and ecosystems and food systems profoundly disrupted.
We will pay for our Green New Deal, because our lives, our families, our homes and our democracy depend upon it.
There are numerous ways we can fund a city-wide transformation, and using multiple mechanisms will be most effective:
- We can put a climate emergency tax on big business
We could do this by either by raising the B&O taxes or by implementing a Clean Energy big business tax similar to the City of Portland’s. Portland’s Clean Energy Fund, which passed at the ballot in 2018 with 64% of the vote, applies a 1% tax to large retailers with annual tax year total gross income from retail sales of $1 billion or more in the U.S. or $500,000 or more within the City of Portland, excluding utilities, co-ops, credit unions, and sales of qualified groceries, medicine, or health care services. Portland’s Clean Energy Surcharge is expected to raise between $54 million and $71 million annually for investments in the renewable revolution. Seattle can, and should, do likewise.
- We can price congestion
New York, London, Stockholm, Oslo and many other cities around the world have already implemented a congestion price. Fourteen years of the London congestion charge has enabled $2 billion in investment in the city’s transportation infrastructure.
- We can put a one-off climate emergency levy to the voters
In February 2019, Seattle voters passed two public schools levies that will raise over $2.2 billion over six years. If Seattlities care enough to fund their children’s education, it seems likely that they would also be willing to pay a little extra to ensure that they have a planet to live on.
- We can re-purpose funds from the general fund
Seattle already has a budget of $5.9 billion per year, including around $1.3 billion in General Fund spending every year. We could recognize the true scale of the climate crisis and and prioritize spending much, much more of our current budget in Green New Deal programs.
- We can dip into Seattle’s existing rainy day fund to help seed our Green New Deal.
The City of Seattle has $51.1 million set aside for spending on unforeseen costs. The climate crisis warrants the City using some of this money to seed its Green New Deal Fund.
Of course, all of these funding mechanisms will need to be rigorously studied before implementation. Washington State already has the most regressive tax system of any state in the country; it’s critical that our Green New Deal funding mechanisms do not further burden low-income communities.
We can afford a Green New Deal. We have no choice.