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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Advisory Vote 19 involves a tax on crude oil

This Sept. 29, 2016, file photo, shows a section of the Dakota Access pipeline under construction near St. Anthony in Morton County, N.D. A tax imposed on oil-by-pipeline was imposed by the Legislature this year; voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on the tax by an advisory vote in November. (Tom Stromme / AP)

In November, Washington voters will have the chance to show their support or opposition to a tax on oil brought to state refineries by pipelines.

The tax was imposed by the Legislature earlier this year. Like its name suggests, Advisory Vote 19 isn’t binding on the Legislature, which typically ignores the results of these measures whether they come down on the side of “repeal” or “maintain.”

In the 2018 session, the Legislature extended the state’s oil spill administration tax and its oil spill response tax, both of which are levied on crude oil brought to refineries by ships or barges. The two taxes, which together total 5 cents on a 42-gallon barrel, were extended to crude coming in by pipeline.

Money from the spill administration tax is used to cover prevention, response and restoration programs, and the response tax is set aside for cleanup costs that exceed $50,000. With the extra money – estimated at about $1.3 million per year – the Department of Ecology is required to update contingency plans for spills that involve oils with diluted bitumen, a heavy, viscous form of petroleum which can sink in water. The department will also review operations that handle those oils.

The department will also be required to conduct drills to practice handling spills; set up an annual forum with Canadian agencies on common issues involving the Salish Sea, the term for the inland waterway that includes Puget Sound and areas on the coast of British Columbia; and produce an annual report on marine traffic in the Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The bill extending the tax passed both chambers with bipartisan support in the final week of the session.

Under state law, an increase in taxes must be placed on the general election ballot as an advisory vote, but the law does not bind lawmakers to act on the results of that vote in the next session. No previous advisory vote has resulted in the Legislature changing a tax.