Design a Carbon Tax Now! Or, how to make a more efficient legislature to solve our problems.

Abstract

Thoughts on how to design a more effective legislature to solve important issues like global warming by using ranked voting.

Introduction

It is now 2019. We are about to start the legislative session with the largest Democratic Majority in Washington State for 70 years, and if we are ever going to get progress done in our state, now is the time.

This means we need to do it right, there are multiple issues plagueing our state. The 5 which most concern me are:

  1. The lack of any policy to reduce carbon emissions
  2. First Past The Post Voting
  3. Insufficient transit in the Seattle Metro Area
  4. Underfunded schools at every level.
  5. The most regressive tax structure in the United States of America.
  6. Police brutality in Washington is in the 13th highest in the nation

Now, when the legislature convenes on 14 January we are going to need to get a lot of progress done. The budget is going to be on the minds of every legislator, and it is going to effect everyone in our state, every agency, and every issue. We are going to need to make big decisions in the next thirty days which are going to have immense consequences for everyone in our state.

One issue which stymies progress is literally everyone has their own agenda and what they believe should be done first. Historically this has a history of people blocking other proposals which are related to theirs because they are not identical in some way.

This is immature, destructive, and hurts everyone in our state. We need a better politics to solve problems effectively and efficiently. My education makes me believe that ranked voting has one answer. A fairly strong speaker of the house is another answer, though not as preferable.

Now, in the most ideal world where everyone was working for the greater good, this wouldn’t be an issue. But, news flash, we don’t live in a world remotely similar to that world. Shocker, right?

Ranked voting to design bills

A way to do this would be to have legislators propose general topics, and have them consolidated into one list by the leadership of the legislature and the next day have every legislator from each house would vote on the issues by importance using ranked voting. The votes would be tallied within minutes and then would go down the list from the most important to least important in terms of how bills would be proposed to the chamber. The obvious advantage to this is every legislator has a say in the priorities, and have literally no incentive to block legislation because it isn’t their pet project first. There would be some granularity to this, so a carbon tax would be separate from a potential income or capital gains tax, etc. which would give the first issue priority. The budget would not be on the list because it is going to be negotiated regardless and the content is already proposed by the governor. I wouldn’t touch that process because the state budgets are so sweeping. From that point the bills from each house of the legislature would be proposed in the order which every member already had a say in, meaning it will be fairly democratic. They have an incentive to get them through the first step quickly, because that lets them get onto other proposals. At that point they will all go through the normal committee/public hearing process which already exists.

But then there is another issue which is that the bills proposed will be presented by both houses and you could end up with major issues between the two issues. This slows the process down and is inefficient at providing real solutions. A way to solve this from the beginning so we don’t end up with 3 or more bills doing similar things in contradictory ways is that every member of the legislature votes on issues and which pieces to include in the bills as one body in the first week using ranked voting. The votes of every Senator could be worth twice the votes of every Representatives to keep it proportional (in the case of how the Washington State Legislature is structured, since there are twice as many representatives as senators) and they would vote together on how to construct the proposals from the beginning. This gives every bill the highest likelihood of success, guaranteeing every piece of the bill has majority support before it is even compiled.

In the case of a carbon tax, there are several pieces to it:

  1. How much will the tax start at?
  2. How much and in what way will the tax change over time? (linear vs. exponential vs. flat)
  3. Who/what is exempted from the bill?
  4. Where does the money go?

Every other tax will work in a somewhat similar way, an income tax would look like so:

  1. How much will the tax be? Will it be done by brackets or a smooth function? How much will different income levels pay?
  2. What will be exempt?
  3. Will the tax change over time?
  4. Where does the money go?

An expenditure bill would work like so:

  1. How much money is the legislature willing to spend on this project?
  2. How should the money be distributed?

This would solve the issues I have seen above, and probably make for a more efficient legislative session with less infighting, because everyone has already had a say on the year’s most important pieces of legislation before it is even written. Once the vote is done it would take only a couple days for a few professionals to write the bill out the way the legislators wanted. At that point, it should be fairly easy to get good legislation done quickly, solving the problems which plague our state.

The advantage to this method over a strong speaker is the power is spread evenly between every member of the legislature. This gives as close to a guarantee as I can figure out that they have majority approval before they even go to committee, without free riders which the majority of legislators and citizens oppose. If a legislator was obstinate about not getting exactly what they want on a regular basis they can always be censured by the legislature, for acting on bad faith, and could potentially cost them their seat in the next election. This would be made even easier by having ranked voting for all elections in our state.

  1. Legislators propose topics for legislation
  2. Legislators choose which topics are the most important
  3. Legislators vote on which specific proposals should be enacted for each topic. Proposals will be done with ranked voting. Complimentary proposals would both be included if they have majority support.
  4. Bills are presented to the legislature, use our existing process, guaranteeing every section has majority support.

Ranked Voting for Elections

Ranked voting will make a better politic for our state (and eventually country) because we will no longer have a two party system given time. More liberal Democrats will split from more centrist Democrats, and the Fascist Tea Party will split from Eisenhower Republicans. This will mean that members of one party who do not accurately represent their constituents will have a real challenger in the general election. This will give a more accurate representation of what people in our state want to have happen. This will benefit everybody. The top two system is better than party primaries, but still does not guarantee an accurate representation the way single transferable vote does.

Conclusion

By using ranked voting for both designing policies and electing our elected officials we should be more able to solve the problems plaguing our state, our country and our world. It should eliminate waste, corruption, and encourage legislators to focus on solving the very real problems facing our world.

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