By Taylor McAvoy

By Taylor McAvoy

Governor’s carbon tax proposal is dead in the state Legislature

The bill’s failure sets the stage for a possible initiative on the November ballot.

An amended version of Governor Jay Inslee’s proposal to tax carbon emissions to fight climate change is effectively dead in the state Legislature.

The primary sponsor of the carbon tax bill and its shepherd in the state Senate, Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D–Seattle, said on March 1 in a phone interview that the bill is “one to two” votes short and that it’s “not going to come up for a vote” to pass it out of the Senate before the end of the 2018 legislative session.

“The governor and I finalized the absolute numbers this morning,” said Carlyle. “We were damn close.”

The session ends on March 8.

In January, Inslee proposed taxing carbon emissions at a rate of $20 per metric ton with annual increases for inflation while exempting certain manufacturers, agricultural industries, and jet fuel. The proposal would have increased the cost of electricity, gasoline, and natural gas.

His plan would have invested the revenues into renewable energy infrastructure, wildfire suppression, and assistance for low-income families struggling with increased energy costs.

Despite the legislation’s frosty reception from Republicans and lukewarm enthusiasm from Senate and House Democratic leadership, the bill slowly wound its way through the Senate legislative process.

It passed out of the Senate Energy, Environment, and Technology Committee on Feb. 1, before moving through the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 22. However, without enough votes in the entire Senate chamber, it won’t be brought up for a floor vote.

The bill was altered in its journey through the state Senate. In contrast to the governor’s original proposal, the tax rate in the latest version of the bill was reduced to $12 per ton with a cap at $30 and more industry exemptions were added.

“We didn’t get to the peak of Mount Everest but we made it well past base camp to damn near the top,” Carlyle said.

Passing a carbon tax was a priority for Inslee, who has proposed taxing carbon pollution in some form several years in a row. None of his proposals have made it through the Legislature.

On Feb. 13, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry came to the state Capitol on Inslee’s invitation to promote the carbon tax bill.

Throughout the 2018 legislative session, local environmental groups threatened to field a carbon tax ballot initiative later this year if lawmakers didn’t pass Inslee’s proposal.

The legislation garnered the support of some business and energy industry interests, who opted to work with lawmakers on crafting the bill than face a fixed carbon tax ballot initiative.

In 2016, a different carbon tax ballot initiative was voted down by roughly 20 points.

Carlyle said that he hopes that the governor’s altered carbon tax bill informs how the potential ballot initiative is drafted.

“I feel nothing but pride in our team and the work we did,” he said, before going on to claim that a carbon tax will be enacted in Washington state within two years. “I think the seal is broken and the precedent is set.”

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

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