When you are one, you have only just learned to speak. You move about clumsily and knock things down a lot. You don’t yet know what is possible, but you are burgeoning with life.
As the New Year gets underway, we could conjure up a list of “top trends” in philanthropy for 2015 or make a bunch of predictions that we would probably regret twelve months from now, along with all the junk we ate over the holidays.
But we’re going to skip such exercises and instead offer up a quick tour of the obsessions, favorite causes, and pet peeves that we’ll be indulging this year. If you’re still wondering what the agenda is at Inside Philanthropy, you’ve clicked on the right post.
Talk about speaking truth to money! From the Whitehouse Press Office:
Floor Statement of Sheldon Whitehouse
On H.R. 5771
December 16, 2014
Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr./Madame President, later this week, the Senate will likely take up and pass legislation to extend several dozen expired tax provisions. While I support a number of the individual provisions extended by this bill, I rise today to explain why I reluctantly plan to oppose it.
The so-called “tax extenders” package includes the one-year extension of a hodgepodge of over four dozen tax provisions. This extension is not for the year ahead of us, as one might reasonably expect, but rather for the year that’s mostly past us. In other words, we will be extending for 2014 tax programs that expired at the end of 2013. This means that, for the most part, the bill will offer credits and deductions to reward things that have already happened while doing absolutely nothing to help businesses and individuals plan for the future.
If tax policy is intended to influence behavior, the extenders bill is a double failure: it spends money rewarding things that have already happened and offers no incentives for businesses and individuals for the year ahead.
Let’s take for example the production tax credit for wind energy, a program I strongly support that encourages the construction of wind farms. The provision in the extenders bill offers this incentive for properties for which construction has commenced by the end of 2014. That’s three weeks from now. Instead of giving energy companies time to plan and prepare wind projects, we’re saying: if you happen to have one ready to go, you’ve got until the end of the holiday season to break ground. The clock is ticking.
In contrast to Congress’s temporary, year-to-year treatment of the wind tax credit and other incentives for renewable energy, Big Oil and Gas enjoy permanent subsidies in the tax code. It’s long past time to reform the tax code so it reflects America’s 21st Century energy priorities. Permanent incentives for oil and gas and temporary programs for renewable energy is simply upside-down public policy.
In total, there are 50 or so extensions in this bill, and the only thing they seem to have in common is that Congress repeatedly packages them together. It’s truly a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let’s start with some of the good provisions. In addition to clean energy incentives, the bill extends a popular tax credit that encourages businesses to hire veterans, a host of incentives for energy efficiency, and a provision that ensures that families that lose their homes in foreclosure don’t incur tax bills for the deficiencies. These provisions have strong bipartisan support.
Then there’s the bad: the unjustifiable tax giveaways. These include so-called “bonus depreciation,” a program that allows corporations to deduct the costs of equipment right away instead of spreading out the deductions over the life of the equipment. Congress first included this provision in 2009 in the Recovery Act when it made some sense. The idea was to encourage businesses to accelerate their purchases when the economy most needed the investments. We’ve extended it so many times, though, that now we’re just giving money away to corporations for buying things they would have bought anyway. That’s a nice subsidy for the businesses, but not a wise use of taxpayer dollars.
The bill also includes tax giveaways for NASCAR tracks and racehorses. While I know these sports are popular, it’s hard to justify subsidizing them with taxpayer dollars at a time when we’re running large deficits and face the prospect of more budget sequestration.
And then there’s the ugly, the stuff that does actual harm. There’s a pair of provisions in the bill–the “active financing” and “controlled foreign corporation look through” provisions–that reward U.S. corporations for shifting money overseas to avoid paying taxes. Sadly, there are already a number of provisions in the tax code that encourage companies to move operations and assets overseas. We should repeal those provisions, not enhance them as the extenders bill does.
This one-year, retroactive mixed bag of extensions will increase the budget deficit by over $41 billion. To put that figure into perspective, that’s more than the annual budget for the entire Department of Homeland Security.
Earlier this year, my senior Senator from Rhode Island, Jack Reed, lead an effort to extend unemployment benefits for the millions of Americans who have struggled to find work in this uneven economic recovery. Republicans repeatedly filibustered his unemployment insurance legislation, with many citing the $17 billion price tag and the offsets included to pay for it.
I expect many of these same Republicans will vote to pass the $41 billion tax extenders bill, legislation which is not offset and will add to the deficit. If Republicans are truly as worried about the deficit as many of them claim to be, they need to raise these concerns consistently and not forget them when it’s convenient. Spending through the tax code is still spending, and we should offset it.
Mr./Madame President, next year this body will have new leadership and a fresh opportunity to tackle our nation’s problems. I hope Senate Republicans will show us they can exercise the power of being in the majority responsibly. President Obama says he is eager to work with the Republican majority on several major bills including tax reform. I too am eager to work with Republicans on sensible, responsible tax reform—reform that ends the era of year-to-year extensions, eliminates wasteful tax spending, and decreases the deficit. I thank the chair, and I yield the floor.
From the Whitehouse press office:
Sen. Whitehouse Introduces Legislation to Fight Climate Change and Boost RI Economy
Carbon Fee Bill Would Return All Revenue to the American People
Washington, DC – With Rhode Island continuing to face the effects of climate change and struggling to rebuild its economy in the wake of the Great Recession, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is fighting back on both fronts. Whitehouse today introduced the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act, legislation to make polluters pay for the damage caused by carbon pollution and generate as much as $2 trillion over ten years – all of which would be returned to the American people.
“For years now, Rhode Island has been on the losing end of the fossil-fuel economy,” said Whitehouse. “We suffer the effects of climate change caused by carbon pollution – from rising seas that damage property to warming waters that affect our fishing industry. Meanwhile, the big polluters get to offload the cost of that harm without having to pay a dime. Today I’m introducing legislation to put the costs of carbon pollution back on the shoulders of the polluters where it belongs, while also creating an even playing field for Rhode Island clean energy businesses to compete and generating much-needed revenue to benefit families in Rhode Island and across the nation.”
The American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act would require polluters to pay a fee for every ton of carbon pollution they emit. The fee would start at $42 per ton in 2015 and increase annually by an inflation-adjusted 2 percent. The price of the fee follows the Obama Administration’s central estimate of the “social cost of carbon,” the value of the harms caused by carbon pollution including falling agricultural productivity, human health hazards, and property damages from flooding.
The fee would be assessed on all coal, oil, and natural gas produced in or imported to the U.S. and cover large emitters of non-carbon greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide from non-fossil-fuel sources. The U.S. Department of Treasury would assess and collect the fee, working with the Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Information Administration to ensure the best research methods and data are used.
A study from Resources for the Future, a non-partisan think tank, estimates that a carbon fee tracking the social cost of carbon would reduce carbon pollution by about 50% within a decade from the electricity sector alone compared to business-as-usual. The electricity sector is the largest source of carbon pollution, emitting about 40% of annual emissions.
All revenue generated by the carbon pollution fee – which could exceed $2 trillion over ten years – would be credited to an American Opportunity Fund to be returned to the American people. Possible uses include:
Economic assistance to low-income families and those residing in areas with high energy costs
Social security benefit increases
Tuition assistance and student debt relief
Dividends to individuals and families
Transition assistance to workers and businesses in energy-intensive and fossil-fuel industries
Climate mitigation or adaptation
Reducing the national debt
The Whitehouse bill would raise enough revenue to, for example, cut the federal tax rate on Rhode Island businesses from 35 percent to 30 percent, give every Rhode Island worker an annual $500 payroll tax rebate, and boost the Earned Income Tax Credit by hundreds of dollars a year for 84,000 low-income Rhode Island families.
By requiring fossil fuel companies to factor the cost of their pollution into their product, Whitehouse’s legislation would also give clean energy businesses a fair chance to compete in the energy market. “By making carbon pollution free, we rig the game, giving polluters an unfair advantage over newer and cleaner technologies,” Whitehouse noted. Rhode Island clean- and renewable-energy businesses today applauded Whitehouse’s legislation:
“In order to level the playing field that results from the many subsidies that the fossil fuel industry has in place, the biodiesel industry today is controlled by a number of mandates, regulations and subsidies that are continually changing or are eliminated altogether for periods of time. This makes investment in biodiesel production and infrastructure very tenuous,” said Bob Morton, managing partner at Newport Biodiesel in Newport, RI. “Since biodiesel produces up to 86% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum diesel, a carbon fee would make biodiesel a much more cost effective fuel and would insure investors that the industry is here to stay. We at Newport Biodiesel want to thank Senator Whitehouse for his continued efforts to raise the awareness of climate change impacts and to develop practical solutions that can help to address those issues. Introduction of this legislation is an important step in bringing climate change to the forefront of the national discussion.”
“Bioprocess Algae is one of the pioneers in biofilm-based algae production and we are currently operating one of the longest-standing biological carbon capture and re-use facilities in the country,” said Tim Burns, CEO of BioProcess Algae in Portsmouth, RI. “Our co-located facility utilizes waste heat and CO2 from a corn-ethanol plant to produce high quality feedstocks for nutritionals, animal feeds, biochemical and fuels. Senator Whitehouse’s leadership on introducing the carbon fee bill, which creates a platform for carbon utilization, is outstanding and a vision for the future.”
Sen. Whitehouse Statement on Keystone Vote
Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) released the statement below regarding today’s vote in the Senate on legislation to force the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which failed by a vote of 59-41. 60 votes were required.
“The Keystone pipeline isn’t any normal pipeline. It would transport Canadian tar sands oil, which is one of the dirtiest fuels on earth. It would only create about 35 permanent jobs – all while contributing to the harm carbon pollution is doing to our atmosphere and oceans – problems we have to live with in Rhode Island. Furthermore, this bill would set a dangerous precedent by undermining the Administration’s authority to ensure the project is in our national interest. I’m glad the Senate rejected this bill today, but it’s clear that Senate Republicans will continue to try to force this issue in the new year. I’ll keep fighting to prevent this bill from passing, and I hope the Obama Administration will ultimately decide to reject the Keystone pipeline, and veto any efforts to steamroll orderly process.”
If you’re not tracking the explosion of giving by energy companies, you should be—especially if you raise money for STEM, higher ed, or workforce. Just look at this big give by Chevron in Appalachia.
The trifecta of reducing carbon emissions, conserving energy dollars, and creating jobs, makes investment in energy conservation a priority for the Kresge Foundation. Meet one of its core grantees for this work.