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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Senate leader proposes carbon tax with 15 cent per gallon hike to gasoline

A carbon tax proposal in front of the Washington Legislature includes an additional 15-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline. (Don Ryan / AP)

OLYMPIA – A new proposal to tax carbon pollution could lead to an increase of 15 cents in taxes on a gallon of gas, which along with other proposed raises in taxes and fees could provide some $17 billion over the next decade for roads, bridges and an array of transportation and environmental projects.

In releasing the proposal Thursday, Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, acknowledged that previous efforts to charge a tax or fee on carbon pollution have failed. Initiative 1631, which included a carbon fee, lost in 36 of 39 counties last November and collected less than 44 percent of the vote.

“There are other reasons why they said no,” Hobbs said. Some voters didn’t like the fact that the fee in the initiative increased each year, and the money it raised would be spent on projects by “an unknown group of people.”

His proposal – a package of bills including taxing authority, bonds and long lists of projects – would set the tax at $15 per ton of carbon pollution produced by a fuel, which translates to 15 cents per gallon of gasoline at the pump. The carbon tax couldn’t increase without legislative approval and lawmakers would decide how it would be spent.

“I see a lot of carbon proposals out there,” Hobbs said. “My problem with all of them is none of (the money) goes back … to address the problems they’re trying to address.”

Some money from the carbon fee would be spent to remove and replace state-owned culverts that create barriers to migrating salmon and steelhead, which Washington is under an order from the U.S. Supreme Court to fix. It would also be spent to on the following:

    Improving stormwater collection and treatment systems.

    Increasing the number of electric vehicles, including new electric ferries for the state’s system.

    Local programs for bike and pedestrian projects and safe schools, rural mobility, bus, vanpool and commute trip reduction.

Hobbs estimated the package has a 50-50 chance of passing the Legislature in some form, although he acknowledged that changes are likely. As chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, he has scheduled a hearing on the proposal next Thursday and believes he has enough bipartisan support on that panel to send it to the full Senate.

Along with the carbon tax, Hobbs is suggesting other increases in existing taxes and fees, with targeted uses for the money.

The package of bills would raise the motor and special fuel excise tax by 6 cents per gallon.

Weight fees would go up by $10 a year for light trucks and passenger vehicles, and $25 a year for motor homes. The license fee for passenger vehicles would also go up by $5 per year.

The cost of an Enhanced Drivers License, which can be used to prove legal residency when boarding an airplane, would increase by $30 in October 2020.

The electric vehicle fee would go up by $200.

The sales tax on auto parts, and on the sale of new bicycles, would go up by 1 percent, as would the rental car tax, and a 50-cent per-trip fee would be assessed on all for-hire vehicles.

Penalties for violating High Occupancy Vehicle lane restrictions would jump by $114, with money dedicated to maintenance on the road where the carpool violation occurred.

Most of the money from those taxes and fees would go to state and local road and highway maintenance and preservation projects. Portions of some fees collected would be dedicated to grants to port districts, alternative fuel credits or railroad upgrades.

Some of the money raised by the carbon tax and other sources would also be used to back a $5 billion bond package, with projects that include a new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River and faster completion of the Interstate 90 Barker to Harvard roads project.