WAVotes NEWS: State House and Senate Democrats release transportation budget proposals. “Cap-and-trade” climate change bill clears Senate committee.

By FRANZ WIECHERS-GREGORY  | 
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Mar 24, 2021

House and Senate Democrats in Olympia on Monday released their respective transportation proposals for the 2021-23 biennium, along with supplemental spending plans for the current 2019-21 budget period.

The budget proposals will be contained in HB 1135, sponsored by Rep. Jake Fey (D-Tacoma), Chair of the House Transportation Committee and SB 5165, sponsored by the Senate Transportation Chair, Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens.) Both bills had public hearings on Tuesday, and will likely be passed out of the House and Senate Transportation committees by the end of this week.

The House version of the plan proposes to spend about $9.5 billion for 2019-21 and $10.9 billion  for the new 2021-23 budget cycle. The Senate’s version would spend about $9 billion and $11.7 million for the respective budget periods.

Both House and Senate leaders said that their proposals would adapt to the state’s changing transportation finances which have been impacted  by declining gas tax collections and higher transportation costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors. Their proposals are, however, “designed to invest in green transportation, major construction projects and policy reforms that will boost equity and opportunity,” the sponsors said.

They also said that their proposed budgets would take into account possible federal relief funds as well as the state supreme court’s decision to strike down Initiative 976, passed by voters in November to reduce car tab fees.

Also on Monday, the Senate Ways and Means Committee passed out SB 5126, bringing enactment of a sweeping climate change proposal pushed by Gov. Inslee closer to reality this session.

Titled “The Washington Climate Commitment Act,” the bill would create a “cap-and-trade” system that would limit fossil fuel emissions for large companies by capping pollution amounts and requiring polluters to buy allowances to pollute. Money from the sale of these allowances would be spent on green energy and capital infrastructure projects.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), SB 5126 would generate between $272 million and $551 million per year that could be dedicated to transportation construction projects starting in fiscal year 2023.

In addition to creating a cap-and-trade system by 2023, the bill would establish a Climate Task Force, climate commitment program, and an Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Panel specifically to oversee this program

Previous cap-and-trade proposals failed to pass during the 2019 and 2020 sessions of the legislature. This year, Democrats are calling it a “cap-and-invest” program, and advocates say that there is “momentum to get it passed.”

Critics of the program argue that the costs of the program will negatively impact working families. Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) said in a radio interview last month, “What would this cap and trade scheme do to the average fuel costs for a middle-class family in Washington? What would the cost be at the pump to fill up your car, to heat your home, all those things,” he said. He added that the true cost of the program is unknown because of the complicated nature of its implementation, but it is likely that “a significant chunk of the tax dollars would be taken from middle-class, working people,”

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