Editorials

Our Voice: Inslee’s carbon tax bill unfair to middle class

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wants to impose a carbon emissions tax to fund projects that would help reduce greenhouse emissions. Opponents say it would be a burden on the middle-class and small businesses.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wants to impose a carbon emissions tax to fund projects that would help reduce greenhouse emissions. Opponents say it would be a burden on the middle-class and small businesses. AP

Gov. Jay Inslee believes Washington state will be unrecognizable in 100 years if we don’t significantly cut our reliance on fossil fuels.

There will be no salmon because the rivers will be too hot. Mountains won’t have as much snow and our forests will be burned away. Those are his predictions if we don’t act now to combat climate change.

Inslee met with the Tri-City Herald editorial board last week to promote his latest proposal to reduce carbon pollution. His passion to turn Washington into a fossil fuel-free, clean energy state comes from a fervent belief we are headed toward an environmental catastrophe and we must do everything we can to avoid it.

His commitment to protecting human health and the state’s natural beauty is admirable.

But Senate Bill 6203 will burden some people more than others, and that isn’t fair.

The proposal — also known as the carbon tax bill — would impose an additional $10 per metric ton on carbon dioxide emissions in 2019. The amount would increase over time to $30 per metric ton by 2029.

The money raised would go to clean energy efforts and projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It also might encourage more people to buy vehicles that don’t run solely on fossil fuel, Inslee said.

But adding that extra tax will mean gas prices will go up, and so will heating bills.

An analysis by the Washington Policy Center estimates the average family will spend $125 more on gasoline per year in 2019, and $375 more a year in 2029 if the tax is approved.

While SB 6203 provides ways to help low-income people bear the tax — like providing help with utility bills and rebates on car tabs — only those under a certain income level will qualify.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, told a group at an Association of Washington Business event that the carbon tax “is the most devastating thing we could do to the state of Washington. Hardworking middle-class people, small businesses, pay the price so that somebody can feel good about unmeasurable improvements in the environment. That simply is not acceptable.”

The bill has made it out of the Senate Energy, Environment & Technology Committee and is awaiting further action.

State Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, serves on that committee and voted against the legislation. She said there are 57 exemptions in the bill to protect industries that might be tempted to leave the state if the tax was imposed.

So that leaves the rest of us to bear the cost, she said.

We have nothing to fear from an initiative. Some argue that if the Legislature does not act, we can expect environmental groups to file a much-worse initiative. Well, bring it on.

State Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick

Brown said that the tax would be “devastating” to struggling families and “hardworking Washingtonians,” and that Tri-Citians, in particular, would be hit hard.

She noted that commute distances are farther in the Tri-Cities than other parts of the state, and that it takes “12 miles of real time driving to get from downtown Kennewick to downtown Richland.”

Inslee mentioned that if lawmakers don’t approve a plan to reduce carbon emissions this session, there is a good chance a citizens initiative would end up going to voters.

He said that likely would result in a new law that lacks the “nuance” of his current proposal.

We agree bills that make their way through the legislative process are typically more thoughtful than initiatives. But Brown isn’t worried.

“We have nothing to fear from an initiative. Some argue that if the Legislature does not act, we can expect environmental groups to file a much-worse initiative. Well, bring it on,” she said.

“The people will reject any energy tax when they realize what it will cost,” said Brown. “Ask people if they will support a 30-cent gas-tax increase and they will say no. They rejected the last carbon-tax initiative, I-732 in 2016, by 59-41 percent.”

We want less pollution in our state, and Inslee’s predictions of an unrecognizable Washington are concerning.

But the solution shouldn’t hurt some people more than others. SB 6203, as written, is not the answer.

  Comments