FILE - Gas pump gas tax

Most Virginians support Gov. Ralph Northam’s intent to join the Transportation and Climate Initiative until they are told that it would include a new gasoline and diesel tax, according to a poll. The new tax could start at 18 cents per gallon and continue to rise.

The Transportation and Climate Initiative is a multi-state agreement that seeks to lower pollution caused by transportation in several Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. According to the initiative's website, more than one-third of carbon emissions are caused by the transportation sector. To reduce these emissions, the agreement would seek to promote clean vehicles and fuels.

Under the full implementation of the plan, CO2 emissions would be reduced through a cap on the total amount of over-the-road gasoline and diesel for sale in the member jurisdictions. The cap would be reduced over time.

To sell gasoline or diesel above those limits, a retailer would be required to purchase carbon allowances, which would effectively create a tax on those additional sales.

The poll, which was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy between Dec. 12-16, asked 625 registered Virginia voters back-to-back questions about the climate initiative. The first question asked whether voters support the initiative’s goals to develop clean energy and reduce carbon emissions and the second asked whether they would still support these goals if the new tax was included.

Although 61 percent of respondents said that they support the goals in the initial question, that support dropped to just 34 percent when the tax is mentioned. Opposition to the initiative rose from 29 percent to 58 percent when the tax was considered. Undecided voters decreased from 10 percent to 8 percent.

Democratic voters were the most likely to support the initiative, polling at 89 percent support, but dropping to 53 percent when the tax is mentioned. Republicans were the least likely to support the initiative, polling at 19 percent before the tax is mentioned and only 9 percent when it is. Support from independents dropped more than half when the tax was mentioned: from 63 percent support to only 31 percent.

The two questions were included in a more general poll at the request of The Thomas Jefferson Institute, a free-market think tank based in Virginia. Steve Haner, a senior fellow for state and local tax policy at the institute, told The Center Square in an email that his organization opposes the initiative.

“From our perspective, few if any benefits are likely and the problems are great: Raising additional tax money from families and businesses and creating greater economic pressure to move away from the internal combustion engines that drive our economy,” Haner said. “Remember, this carbon car tax will be in addition to the 12 cents per gallon traditional fuel tax Governor Ralph Northam is proposing, so a total of nearly 30 cents per gallon.

“The organizers themselves admitted in their December 17 data release that CO2 emissions from transportation are already going down, as people choose electric vehicles or hybrids without coercion,” Haner added. “An initial TCI goal of a 25 [percent] reduction over ten years is only barely more than would happen anyway (19 [percent]). Why impose taxes and rationing to achieve that little benefit? And the real goal for these folks is eliminating all gasoline or diesel vehicles, period. It might not even be possible to do that, even if cost were not a consideration. Yes this is a carbon tax but remember the other part of this, steady annual reductions in the amount of fuel allowed to be sold in these states – a rationing scheme.”

Northam expressed his intent to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which would enter Virginia into a cap-and-trade agreement with several other states. Last year, Republicans blocked a provision that would have allowed Northam to enter into the agreement without legislative approval.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and Ohio for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.