Lawmakers tell Herald concerns about carbon fuel tax hindered possible transportation package

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldMarch 25, 2014 

Concerns that Gov. Jay Inslee might sign an executive order implementing a carbon fuel tax could have hurt chances to pass a statewide transportation bill in the last legislative session, local elected officials said Tuesday.

Several state House representatives, all Republicans, told the Herald's editorial board they would like Inslee to promise that he won't impose such a tax.

The threat of such a tax -- which would add anywhere from 50 cents to $1.17 to the cost of a gallon of gasoline -- continues to hinder a possible statewide transportation package, said Rep. Joe Schmick of Colfax.

"If he had taken that off the table, I think we could have had a more robust transportation package," Schmick said.

Should such a tax be imposed, trucking businesses would likely set up in Oregon and Idaho, where they could make deliveries to Washington without having to fuel up in the state, said Rep. Larry Haler of Richland.

"What you're going to do with a carbon tax, as well as possibly a gas tax, is drive people out of the state," he said.

The governor's office, in an email, responded that no carbon fuel tax has been discussed or proposed.

Inslee has discussed a clean fuel standard, which would reduce the amount of carbon in transportation fuels over time, spokeswoman Jaime Smith said. Such a standard would only be implemented after a thorough public analysis.

Republicans have frequently misused numbers from a report issued by Inslee's climate and legislative work group, Smith said. The group has never calculated a cost-per-gallon value for the low carbon fuel standard.

"At this point, there is no cost estimate because there is no clean fuel proposal on which to do an analysis," Smith said. "Cleaner fuels can be implemented in a thousand different ways resulting in a thousand different cost variables. It is premature to say if or how much a clean fuel standard would increase costs."

Republicans have been unwilling to support an increase in the gas tax of up to 10 cents or more that would have gone toward transportation improvements in the state.

Instead, the state should look first for improvements in the Department of Transportation, they said. They point to problems like pontoons that wouldn't float on the Highway 520 floating bridge on Lake Washington and the Bertha boring machine that has been stuck for months while trying to dig a new Highway 99 tunnel under Seattle.

The state could have saved more than a billion dollars if it had improved the existing Alaska Way Viaduct in Seattle instead of building a tunnel, said Rep. Brad Klippert of Kennewick. That money could have paid for local projects such as a Red Mountain interchange off Interstate 82 and a Lewis Street overpass in Pasco.

The tunnel project will likely mean lengthy lawsuits between the state and contractors, said Rep. Bruce Chandler of Granger.

The state would be better served to include design services in its construction bids, instead of allowing state Department of Transportation engineers to design projects, Chandler and Klippert said. That would keep the liability for finishing the job on time with the contractor.

"It's a huge cultural shift for the entire transportation community," Chandler said. "These mistakes are tremendously expensive and they prevent a lot of projects from even happening."

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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