Are Green Taxes a Good Way to Help Solve State Budget Deficits?
States are increasingly turning to environmental taxes as a means of raising revenue. These taxes are often thought to generate a double dividend: an environmental dividend stemming from the environmental improvement, and an economic dividend resulting from use of the revenue from environmental taxes to reduce other distortionary taxes (e.g., income or sales taxes). We review the economic literature on the double-dividend hypothesis, and show explicitly that the conditions under which the second dividend exists are less likely to hold when the amount of revenue that would be raised by an optimal environmental tax is small relative to the tax revenue from other taxes. We then present estimates of the potential revenue that could be raised from two environmental taxes in Connecticut. The results suggest that, because of their small tax base, environmental taxes are likely to have limited potential to raise revenue to finance state government budget deficits and/or reduce other distortionary taxes. Overall, environmental taxes could still generate significant gains for society if they lead to significant improvements in environmental quality. However, without more evidence of the existence of a double dividend, states should not try to justify these taxes on the basis of raising revenue more efficiently.
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