Could a carbon tax find its way into a grand bargain?

Here’s what’s happening on Day 85 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112

2021 Washington Legislature, Day 85 of 105

Everett Herald political reporter Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com | @dospueblos

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OLYMPIA, April 5, 2021 — It’s Monday, 20 days to the end of the regular session and only a few hours until tonight’s NCAA men’s college basketball championship game between Gonzaga and Baylor.

With a 6:20 p.m. tip-off, it is probably not a good day for Senate Democrats to tackle the cap-and-trade bill on the floor calendar. At last look, it had 31 amendments pinned to it.

Maybe they won’t bring it up at all. Twists in the carbon-emission-reduction conversation could reshape any grand bargain between Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee on climate change policy.

The latest came Thursday, when the low-carbon fuel standard bill (LCFS) moved out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee into Rules, bypassing the transportation committee where it’s died the past two sessions. What I missed — and what Paul Queary lays out here in the Washington Observer — is the bill got a makeover, with an amendment from moderate Democratic Sen. Mark Mullet. It does a lot, including tying activation of the policy to action on a means to supply at least $500 million a biennium for transportation.

This means the governor’s major climate change initiatives — LCFS and cap-and-trade — are contingent on enacting a transportation package, which would almost certainly contain billions of dollars for new roads and highways.

Awaiting to enter from the sidelines: Senate Bill 5373.

It imposes a tax of $25 per metric ton of greenhouse gas emissions, aka carbon pollution, starting Jan. 1, 2022. This would bring in an estimated billion dollars per biennium. Some of the dough is targeted for electrification of state ferries, public transit and electric charging stations.

What makes SB 5373 attractive at this point is that a tax on carbon is much simpler to understand and administer than cap-and-trade or a fuel standard. Plus its title, “Concerning carbon pollution,” is very broad. Lawmakers could potentially cut and paste elements of those other bills into it, if desired.

Keep watch. This bill — which enjoys strong support from some environmentalist factions — may soon emerge in the conversation.

Let’s talk

With Saturday’s passage by the House of a proposed operating budget, negotiations can formally begin with the Senate on a final spending plan for the two-year period beginning July 1. To be clear, what passed in the House, and in the Senate on Wednesday, are primarily the handiwork of Democrats, who hold majorities in both chambers.

Here’s post-vote reaction from Senate Democrats, House Democrats and the ranking Republicans on the Senate and House budget-writing panels.

Tackling the Blake decision

It’s been nearly six weeks since the state Supreme Court struck down the Washington law that makes simple drug possession a felony.

That ruling, known as the Blake decision, threw a curve ball at the criminal justice system. As it stands, it likely means some folks will get out of jail, others will lose out on court-ordered treatment programs and an unknown number will be eligible for refunds of fines paid as a result of drug possession convictions that are due for erasure. Lawmakers are under intense pressure to do something before all this happens at once.

Today at 10 a.m, the Senate Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing on Senate Bill 5476. Sponsored by Democratic Sen. Manka Dhingra, it appears to be the vehicle for legislative action this year. Joseph O’Sullivan of The Seattle Times breaks it down here.

This could be a costly remedy. Dhingra offered, then withdrew, this roughly $135 million amendment to the operating budget last week.

Data download

House Democrats will spend time Monday sorting things out on the proposed data privacy bill.

The House and Senate are at odds over how best to enforce the legislation, which is aimed at giving consumers greater control of their private information. Senators like leaving it in the hands of the state attorney general. House Democrats are inclined to give consumers the ability, if they feel wronged.

Monday’s planned briefing on Senate Bill 5062 will give everyone “a sense of where the caucus is at,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, the caucus chair.

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