Inslee wants one more thing: An extra nickel at the gas pump

OLYMPIA — Gov Jay Inslee on Monday celebrated lawmakers’ passage of two major climate change bills he’s pursued for years.

Now, to carry them out, he’s got to get them to do one more thing — agree on a transportation package with a nickel hike in the gas tax.

And if it means summoning lawmakers into special session, he’s ready.

“If there’s progress, you bet, we’re prepared to call people back,” he told reporters at a news conference. “There’s no reason to wait. We’ve got things to build. We’ve got bridges we’ve got to fix and I would look forward to that.”

State lawmakers approved a cap-and-trade system that will put a price on carbon emissions and a low carbon fuel standard, which aims to reduce vehicle tailpipe emissions by requiring production of cleaner burning fuels.

But to corral enough votes for each measure, Democratic sponsors had to insert provisions making implementation of each program contingent on approval of a new revenue package for highway projects by Jan. 1, 2023, when enforcement of the climate change programs is supposed to kick in.

Packages were crafted in each chamber during the session that ended Sunday, but neither advanced far.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, drew up a 16-year, $17.8 billion “Forward Washington” plan. It counted on $5.2 billion generated by the cap-and-trade program and a roughly equal amount from a proposed 9.8-cent gas tax increase. The plan contained two dozen other fees and taxes.

Democrats on the committee approved it over Republican dissent. It died in the Rules Committee, but it is likely to be the blueprint for future conversations.

While Inslee said Monday that he wants a transportation package, he also made clear he opposed the legislative linkage. He left the door open to finding a way to decouple the two, including a veto.

“We are reviewing all the laws,” he said. “We are not prepared to make decisions about vetoes today.”

During the same news conference, the three-term governor encouraged legislators to hunker down and get it done.

“We do need a transportation package that will allow our state to go forward,” he said. “We will be working on those issues while we are not technically in session.”

Republicans opposed the carbon pricing and clean-fuels bills, arguing they will drive up the cost of gasoline by more than a dollar a gallon without producing any measurable decline in greenhouse gas emissions associated with climate change.

While they aren’t outright opposed to a package, they disagreed with knotting a specific gas tax hike with the climate change policies.

“It keeps getting called a ‘grand bargain’ but I am not sure who it’s a grand bargain for. Certainly not for any of my constituents,” Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, said at a Republican news conference Monday. “I’d be extremely disappointed, to put it mildly, if for the last year Democrats said we couldn’t come back for special session to address some of the urgent circumstances created by the coronavirus but now they want to come back for special session to raise a regressive tax by a dollar.”

House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, cautioned Democrats against excluding them from the conversation, noting such packages typically include a bond bill, and those require 60% support in both chambers to pass.

“It is going to take Republican votes if they are going to do a bond,” he said.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: [email protected] | @dospueblos