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.
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