Watch Out, Here Comes the Transportation and Climate Initiative

Virginia voter priorities. Source: Click to enlarge.

by James A. Bacon

A new poll from a “nonpartisan nonprofit think tank,” MassInc., has found that 60% of Virginians surveyed support the Transportation and Climate Initiative Framework while only 29% oppose it and 11% are unsure of their feelings, reports The Virginia Mercury.

We know right off the bat that the findings are nonsense. The fact is, most Virginians have never heard of the Transportation and Climate Initiative. Those who answered MassInc.’s questions were responding to a description of TCI provided by MassInc.’s pollsters:

Under the plan, companies that sell and distribute gasoline and diesel fuel to gas stations in the region would have to pay for the pollution created by the fuels sold and used there. Each state in the program would get a share of the money collected from those companies, based on how much fuel is used in their state. States could use this money to make transportation in their state better, cleaner, and more resilient to the effects of climate change. They could also use it to help residents with any higher costs the companies try to pass on to them.

That poll is about as loaded as you can get.

The cost of TCI would fall on “companies that sell and distribute gasoline and diesel fuel,” the explanation says. The resulting manna would pay for goodies such as making transportation “better, cleaner and more resilient” — oh, and not only that, would help offset any higher costs “the companies try to pass on to them.” Benefits for everyone, but no pain for anyone except those who sell gasoline. Given the wording, frankly, it is remarkable that Virginians favor the idea by a mere 2-to-1 margin.

The poll’s cross tabs tell a different story. The pollsters asked, ‘How much of a priority do you think each of the following should be for state government in your state?” I have replicated the results, broken down by geographic area, at the top of this post (lumping together results for “major priority” and “minor priority.”)

The priorities with greatest support are jobs/economy and, close behind, improving the network of roads/bridges/highways. Addressing the cost of health care is a high priority, as is improving public education.  Then come addressing air pollution and provide clean energy. At the bottom of the list is addressing climate change. Of course the results are positive for addressing climate change. Who wouldn’t want to… in the abstract? But when compared to other priorities listed, addressing climate change had the weakest support of all.

Please note, the survey did not give respondents the options of “reducing taxes” or “reducing transportation costs.” The only questions that have any meaning are those that explore peoples’ willingness to make tradeoffs between competing goods. This survey does not do that.

…. Which means the survey is not meant to plumb public opinion but to shape it.

Bacon’s bottom line: Watch out, people. First they laid the groundwork for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade mechanism for reducing the carbon output of electric utilities, which will cost electric rate payers in Virginia multiple billions of dollars. Now they are laying the groundwork for a similar cap-and-trade scheme for automobile emissions, which, I can assure you, will cost billions more.