OLYMPIA – Environmentalists began publicly pushing a major hike in pollution taxes Friday, unveiling a plan to aid the state’s recession-hobbled budget by raising about $225 million a year, mostly from oil refineries.
The pollution-tax plan unveiled Friday would nearly triple the state’s existing hazardous substances tax, which was approved by voters in 1988.
The tax is levied on oil products, pesticides and other chemicals and is earmarked for environmental cleanup projects. State lawmakers, however, tend to raid such dedicated spending accounts when the state’s general checkbook is in trouble.
Environmental groups are asking lawmakers to increase the tax on hazardous substances from 0.7 percent to 2 percent, which they say would generate roughly $225 million annually.
About $156 million of that would be dedicated to the state’s general fund for the next three years, when lawmakers are looking at major budget deficits. The balance would be distributed to water cleanup and protection projects at the state and local levels.
Environmentalists have been working on the proposal for weeks and have lined up key support from the state’s local governments, organized labor and construction trade groups.
Once it is formally introduced, the proposal will be sponsored by Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, and Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane.
Raising the pollution tax would hit refineries hard, Hidden Gas Taxes Coalition spokesman Dave Fisher said, posing a threat to refining jobs and potentially spurring higher gas prices.
Supporters, however, countered that sending more money to environmental projects could help the state’s woeful employment picture. December’s unemployment rate was 9.5 percent, the highest since 1984.