First legislative cutoff deadlines pass. Revised carbon tax proposal clears Senate committee

Feb 7, 2018

State lawmakers have voted hundreds of bills out of committee this past week ahead of the cut-off deadlines for considering legislation, including fiscal and transportation measures, by committees in their originating chamber. The next deadline is a week away, on Wednesday, February 14th, the last day for bills to pass in their house of origin.

Last Thursday evening, the Senate Energy, Environment and Technology Committee approved a revised version of Governor Inslee’s carbon tax proposal. Substitute Senate Bill 6203 would now impose a tax of $10 per metric ton of carbon emissions, instead of the $20 tax first proposed by the Governor.  The tax would start in 2019 and increase by $2 a year beginning in 2021 until it reaches $30 per metric ton in 2029.

The new tax would significantly increase how much Washington residents pay for gasoline, home heating, and electricity, especially for lower-income households.  This effect is acknowledged in the bill itself.  Section 501 of the bill states that:

“The legislature finds that increased energy expenses will have a disproportionate impact upon the finances of low-income households engaging in life-sustaining activities including but not limited to heating, cooling, and transportation.”

According to an article by Todd Myers, director of environmental policy at the Washington Policy Center, an average home in Seattle would pay about $170 more per year to begin, increasing to about $510 more per household in 2029. Spokane’s average cost increase would be higher due to the different energy mix, beginning at about $177 more per household and rising to more than $532 annually in 2029.

The largest effect of the tax would be seen in the cost of gasoline. A $10 carbon tax would amount to about 10 cents more per gallon at the pump, going up from there as the tax rate increases each year beginning in 2021.

With the initial committee action deadline behind them, lawmakers will now shift their focus to debating and voting on bills in their respective chambers.  Nearly 250 bills are up for consideration by the House and Senate right now, and more will likely be added in the next few days.

A sign that the legislative session may be headed toward the finish line is the proliferation of so-called “Title Only” bill introductions. There are currently more than 60 such measures before the legislature. These bills have no text and are introduced with a broad reference to a title, such as “An Act Relating to Revenue.” 

They are intended as placeholders for legislation to be worked out during the waning days of a session, but they are also seen as a circumvention of Washington’s constitutional prohibition against new bill introductions during the last ten days of a scheduled session. Proponents of more transparency in the legislative process want to prohibit Title Only bills. They say there should be more opportunity for public input, especially late in the session when the most crucial measures, like the state budget, are passed.

Washington’s legislature is unique among states in allowing Title Only bills, but thirteen other states allow “short-form” bill introductions with plain intent language that is later amended by actual statutory provisions.

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