Inclusion of an 11.5-cent increase in the state gasoline tax would normally be enough fuel for a full-throttle legislative session in Olympia. Not this year.
No, this year progress on an agreement that would address Washington’s desperate need for infrastructure improvements has apparently stalled over a low-carbon fuel standard. Republicans say Gov. Jay Inslee plans to impose one by executive order, a charge the governor rejects. Sort of.
At this rate, New Jersey’s George Washington Bridge traffic cone snafu may look like thoughtful traffic management by comparison.
Inslee did pledge to enact such a standard last October, when he signed an agreement to that effect with the governors of Oregon and California, and the premier of British Columbia. Imposition of a similar standard in Washington could raise gas costs by $1 per gallon, charge Republicans, citing estimates from a consultant hired by the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup the 2008 Legislature authorized to find ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Until the governor explicitly tables the fuel standard, Republicans in control of the state Senate are not going to move a transportation bill forward.
Inslee responded Thursday, accusing Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Curtis King of “fear-mongering” with his characterization of the standards as a “tax.”
“Nowhere does there exist a proposal from my administration for how such a standard would be designed,” he wrote to King and Sens. Mark Schoesler, Rodney Tom and Joe Fain.
“I can assure you that no proposal for me that adds significant costs at the pump will ever materialize,” he says, adding that “a properly constructed, clean fuel standard could actually save money at the pump.”
Maybe, but a simple statement by the governor that no fuel standards will be imposed without the consent of the Legislature would set this issue aside and call a GOP bluff.
That potential gas tax increase, and the voter challenge sure to follow, are probably positioning the Senate to do exactly what Inslee charges: nothing.
Transportation advocates have warned since the close of last year’s extended legislative session that unless action was taken in a post-election special session or early this session, election-year politics would drain whatever will exists to address road and bridge projects, and the taxes that will be necessary to fund them.
This session is young, but the duel over fuel suggests a level of distrust unlikely to get transportation moving. Inslee and King already have a history from last year, when the Yakima senator vigorously opposed a Columbia River bridge with a light-rail component. Inslee had enlisted then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to help promote the project, with a big chunk of federal money as an incentive.
That worked so well it’s now up to Oregon to get the bridge built.
And meanwhile, an over-reaching state Supreme Court is forcing legislative action on education funding. At least somebody in Olympia knows where they are going.