Yoram Bauman: After RomneyCare, it’s time for RomneyAir

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Mitt Romney speaks at the Sutherland Institute on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019.

Dear Mitt Romney:

Last month at the Sutherland Institute you called yourself a renegade Republican, which underscores just how unlikely it is that you will have another chance to lead our party, or our country.

You nonetheless have an opportunity to demonstrate forward progress on two of America’s most important and most intractable challenges — health care and climate change — and in doing so you can create a political legacy that will reverberate through this century and beyond.

The first part of that legacy is already set: RomneyCare, the health care plan you established in 2006 as governor of Massachusetts. That plan became the basis for the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. ObamaCare, which has helped millions of Americans gain coverage. (I’m one of them: I make a living doing stand-up comedy about economics, so I’m self-employed, a position that would probably be untenable without the ACA because of “adverse selection” in the individual health insurance market. So: Thank you.)

The second part of your legacy could be something that one might call RomneyAir: a small-government, market-based approach to clean air and climate change.

You made the case for RomneyAir in your Sutherland Institute speech, noting that you’re one of the few Republicans who takes climate change seriously, that you’re looking at a carbon tax, and that you’d like to see most of the revenue returned to taxpayers (via offsetting tax cuts or a per-capita “dividend”), with a smaller chunk of the revenue going to help coal country — places like Carbon and Emery counties — reinvent themselves and their economies for the coming low-carbon world.

The bad news is that RomneyAir is unlikely to happen at the federal level anytime soon. Too many Republicans are skeptical of climate science, and too many Democrats are in love with the big-government promises of the Green New Deal. The good news is that RomneyAir could very well happen at the state level, in the “laboratories of democracy” where policies get to prove themselves.

And the best news of all is that one such policy is moving forward right here in Utah. It’s a ballot initiative called Clean The Darn Air, and we’re currently collecting signatures to qualify for the 2020 ballot.

As you recommended in your Sutherland Institute speech, our proposal features a carbon tax that will stimulate clean-energy innovation and as such is the single most important step we can take to tackle climate change.

As you recommended in your Sutherland Institute speech, our proposal returns most of the revenue to taxpayers, primarily by eliminating the state sales tax on grocery store food. Taxing pollution instead of potatoes is simple common sense.

And, as you recommended in your Sutherland Institute speech, our proposal helps coal country — and rural Utah more generally — by putting $50 million a year into expanding rural broadband, jump-starting new businesses and otherwise boosting rural economic development.

The Clean The Darn Air proposal also has some funding targeted at the local air pollution that threatens our children, our health and our economy. Last year Gov. Gary Herbert asked for (but didn’t get from the Legislature) $100 million as a “down payment” to improve local air quality. Our proposal allocates $100 million a year, year after year, for cleaner school buses and lower-emissions industrial equipment, trade-in programs to swap gas-powered lawn and garden equipment for electric, and much more.

That investment in local air quality is likely to reduce emissions by 5 percent a year, or about 30 percent by 2030. Just in time for when the winter Olympics returns to Utah (which connects to another part of your legacy, and to the need for climate action).

We’d love to get your support, Mitt, so thanks for your consideration. And thanks for trying to move our country in a more sustainable direction.

Yoram Bauman

Yoram Bauman, Salt Lake City, has a Ph.D. in economics and is one of the co-founders of the Clean The Darn Air campaign.