Climate measures get mixed results in midterms

The California State Capitol Building in Sacramento (Reid Wilson / Pluribus News)

Voters approved measures that will allocate money for resilience in the face of climate change in two states last week, while a measure meant to incentivize a shift to electric cars went down to defeat in the nation’s most populous state.

Voters in California rejected a ballot measure that would have imposed a 1.17% annual tax on personal income above $2 million to fund electric car purchase incentives, charging infrastructure and wildfire response and prevention activities.

The measure, Proposition 30, failed 58.7% to 41.3%. 

The initiative divided Golden State Democrats. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) opposed the measure, which was backed by the ride share company Lyft. The state’s largest teachers union and the Chamber of Commerce joined Newsom, while state Democrats and environmental groups supported the measure.

Asked about Lyft’s involvement in the campaign at a press conference in September, Newsom implied Lyft would benefit directly from its passage.

“It’s a big tax increase that disproportionately benefits, a few large corporations,” Newsom said, “There was one large corporation, wonderful company, that’s going to be one of the lion’s share beneficiaries of raising everybody else’s taxes to direct money in an area where we just passed the largest appropriation and the largest budget in U.S. history.”

A state regulation adopted in May essentially requires 90 percent of the miles driven by ride share companies to be in electric vehicles. That is five years before the 2035 mandate to phase out all new fossil fuel car sales in the state. 

Lyft co-founder Logan Green said in a blog post in September that the company supports California’s decarbonization goal, as it does in other states. He stressed that no funds would go to Lyft; rather, its drivers would be eligible for subsidies like other California citizens. 

In a statement provided to Pluribus News, Lyft spokesman C.J. Macklin lamented the proposal’s defeat.

“The election results are an unfortunate setback for the climate movement,” Macklin said in an email. “Millions were spent by the opposition to confuse and misguide voters, however we are undaunted. Climate change remains a generational issue that increasingly impacts every aspect of our lives. We are proud to be a part of such a diverse and powerful coalition that includes some of the state’s most prominent environmental, public health, social justice, business and labor organizations, and we remain committed to achieving our collective climate goals.”

In New York and Rhode Island, voters approved ballot measures to authorize the issue of bonds to address climate change.

New York will issue up to $4.2 billion in bonds after voters approved Proposal 1 by a 68% to 32% margin.

The New York League of Conservation Voters, which backed the proposal, said it was the largest environmental bond act in the state’s history.

“New York will now have the resources in place to pay for projects that safeguard clean drinking water, mitigate the impact of climate change, and conserve natural resources, all while creating family-sustaining green jobs,” NYLCV said in a statement.

Under the initiative, $1.5 billion would go to climate change mitigation, $1.1 billion for restoration and flood risk reduction, $650 million for open space land conservation and recreation and $650 million for water quality improvement and resilient infrastructure. 

In Rhode Island, voters approved $50 million in bonds for environmental and recreational purposes 66.8% to 33.2 %. The package enjoyed the support of Gov. Dan McKee and other legislative leaders.

Of the $50 million, $16 million would go to help cities and towns improve the resiliency of infrastructure, vulnerable coastal habitats, and restore rivers and stream floodplains. Another $12 million would be used for the construction of a “state-of-the-art-carbon-neutral education center and event pavilion” at Roger Williams Park and Zoo.