Olympia transpo trade: Gas taxes for cap-and-trade?

Senate Republicans want Gov. Jay Inslee to give up a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gases.
Traffic on I-405 near the Highway 520 interchange: Is help on the way?

Traffic on I-405 near the Highway 520 interchange: Is help on the way? Photo: Oran Viriyincy

The rumblings are this: Legislative Republicans might be willing to go whole hog on raising gas taxes if Gov. Jay Inslee guts his push to deal with climate change.

Meanwhile, King and Snohomish counties appear on the way to get the authority to levy their own motor vehicle excise taxes to prop up their transit systems.

Washington State Wire reported Tuesday that the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus has put out a $12.3 billion transportation proposal, including an 11.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax hike. That would be noticeably bigger than the commonly cited Democrat target of $10 billion with a 10.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax hike. Washington's gas tax is currently 38 cents a gallon.

In return, the 23-Republican-two-Democrat alliance wants Inslee to stop pushing for a cap-and-trade law to regulate carbon emissions, and the coalition vaguely hints that other possible anti-greenhouse-gas measures might also become deal breakers, the news Web site reported.

Washington State Wire cited its source on the gas tax and appropriations issues as briefing papers that the majority coalition used in talking to business groups about its proposal. So far, the majority coalition has not unveiled this proposal to the public. 

On Tuesday, Crosscut could not reach either sides' lead negotiators for comment: Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way and Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island. Both parties have been tight-lipped for months about details of the talks. The majority coalition has not yet told Inslee's office about its stance against a cap-and-trade program, according to the governor's spokesperson David Postman. The governor's office, said Postman, will decline comment on the matter until it hears from the coalition.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have agreed to grant King and Snohomish counties the legal ability to levy their own fees as a way to raise revenue, according to copies of some majority coalition briefing sheets provided to Crosscut. Snohomish and King county governments, with a good deal of public support, have been fighting for that authority for almost a year. King County needs that authority to levy fees to avoid a projected 17 percent cut in Metro transit service in 2014.

The same majority coalition briefing sheets show two significant unresolved budget-shifting issues. The majority coalition wants to get rid of the sales-and-use tax on transportation construction materials, which would reduce money to the state's general fund. The majority coalition also wants to shift the funding of stormwater-runoff projects from gas-tax revenue to a state Ecology Department-related hazardous substances tax. Since the coalition lists these items as "unresolved," the Democrats apparently oppose those measures.

On climate matters, the majority coalition's cap-and-trade-removal plank is a recent one.

Republicans and Democrats have been negotiating transportation issues for at least six months. In late September — less than two months ago — the consulting firm for the governor's bipartisan climate change panel told the committee that some combination of a cap-and-trade program, a carbon tax and pushing low-carbon fuel was the only way to realistically meet the goals of a 2008 law to trim carbon emissions.

Three weeks ago, Inslee said he would push for a cap-and-trade program.

In 2008, Washington's Legislature set a goal of reducing the state's greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with further trimming of emissions to 25 percent below Washington's 1990 level by 2035 and to 50 percent below by 2050. Last spring, the Legislature set up the panel — two Republicans, two Democrats, plus Inslee as a fifth non-voting member — to map out how to comply with the 2008 law's targets.

The climate change panel's technical consultant, the Leido firm of Virginia, concluded that the most potent policy would be to install a cap-and-trade program in which Washington would have an overall annual limit to its carbon dioxide emissions. Limits would be set for specific geographic areas. Firms would obtain rights for specific amounts of emissions in those areas and could trade their rights. A carbon tax is simply a levy on a firm's carbon dioxide emissions, which is supposed to inspire a business to decrease its emissions. Since transportation emissions account for 44 percent of Washington's carbon dioxide output, requiring lower carbon levels in fuel mixes would help. 

Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!


Posted Wed, Nov 13, 10:05 a.m. Inappropriate

Would you please stop any mention of these "public hearings" as if they are some sort of legitimate effort to find out what the "public" favors? Everyone with any common sense knows that hearings like this are just dog-and-pony shows which attract special interest groups and do not reflect public opinion in any way.

The public hearings are an utter farce.

Would be nice if Stang would actually point that out occasionally.


Posted Wed, Nov 13, 11:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Good luck wit dat.

A week ago, John reported that climate goals have been determined "impossible" without cap-and-trade. http://crosscut.com/2013/11/07/olympia-2013/117344/inslees-climate-push-faces-deadlines/#comments

This week cap-and-trade has been downgraded to the "most potent policy" for achieving those goals.

Maybe its the SEIU-Dub in him.


Posted Wed, Nov 13, 3:17 p.m. Inappropriate

The climate goals that the WA legislature set are impossible. Just feel-good crap. If they ever try to actually implement anything on that wish list, they will begin to find out how important the public actually thinks those goals are.


Posted Wed, Nov 13, 3:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Setting impossible-to-reach goals... A proven way to 1) raise taxes, 2) grow public sector union membership and 3) increase campaign contributions to the Democratic Party (see #2).


Posted Wed, Nov 13, 11:02 a.m. Inappropriate

For reference, here is the leaked highway package:


Couple this with the scrapped cap and trade and we are back to the 1950's.


Posted Wed, Nov 13, 11:45 a.m. Inappropriate

The Seattle Transit Blog's opinion of the package is awfully misguided. If folks would actually step out of Seattle once in awhile and visit these projects, their opinion might actually be worth something.

Additional lane miles are not necessarily the enemy. If widening a highway means eliminating a chokepoint and/or making bus service feasible, then shouldn't enviros be happy?

And sprawl?!? How can you have sprawl within the urban growth boundaries? Isn't that the point of GMA? Expanding highways to connect employment centers is not sprawl.

Posted Wed, Nov 13, 3:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Ok tell me how this "cross base highway" is worth building? I have no interest in paying for this.



Posted Thu, Nov 14, 11:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Yeah, sort of thought no one would defend the cross base highway. It is a despicable boondoggle. Crosscut should do an article on it.


Posted Thu, Nov 14, 5:15 a.m. Inappropriate

"The majority coalition wants to get rid of the sales-and-use tax on transportation construction materials, which would reduce money to the state's general fund." Dear authors...what else does it do? Anyone? Bueller? Does it reduce the costs of the projects? Does it keep taxpayers from having to pay the underwriting costs of the bonds needed to pay the taxes and the interest charges over the life of the bonds? What is the NPV for 200 million dollars in taxes on the 520 project?


Posted Thu, Nov 14, 8:33 a.m. Inappropriate

When I saw this headline I thought it was actually the faux-Climate Warrior Governor getting something in exchange for pushing through massive polluting highways across the state (which will add to climate change) -- but instead, it's a demand he give up a way to prevent climate change...

Guess it's back to rhetoric for the Governor, as he avoids taking principled stands to fight transportation pollution. But hey, transportation is only half of our climate emissions...


Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »