Inslee proposes new taxes on carbon emissions and capital gains

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday outlined his plan for the state this year, drawing inspiration from those affected by tragic events in the last one.

He used his State of the State address to argue for new taxes on carbon emissions and capital gains to pay for fixing roads, funding schools, combating climate change and reducing economic inequality.

No greater challenge faces the state than reducing carbon pollution, the governor said. He called his proposed cap-and-trade program, requiring the largest industrial polluters to pay for every ton of carbon they release, a proven means of reducing emissions.

“We have a moral obligation to act,” Inslee told a joint gathering of the state Senate and House of Representatives. “I will not — and in the deepest part of my heart I hope you will not — allow this threat to stand.”

In addition to fighting carbon pollution, the governor called for passage of a transportation package, more money for early learning programs, a freeze on college tuition increases, a higher minimum wage, paid sick leave for workers and tax rebates for the working poor.

Republicans later dismissed the governor’s call for new taxes, which Inslee said would ensure that public schools are adequately funded, as required by a state Supreme Court decision. Republicans said the state will collect $3 billion in additional revenue from taxes and fees over the next two years, which should be enough to cover a boost for education.

As for the carbon tax, Republicans think industries will pass the cost to customers in some form.

“We are absolutely willing to consider pollution-reducing ideas that will work and that won’t place such a terrible burden on the hard-working people of Washington state, particularly those in the middle class,” said Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton.

While Inslee’s speech focused on the future, he made sure Tuesday’s event didn’t ignore the Oso mudslide, in which 43 people died last March, and the shootings at Marysville Pilchuck High School in October, in which five teenagers died.

At his invitation, the Marysville Pilchuck High School concert choir performed the national anthem, and Oso Fire Department chaplain Joel Johnson delivered the invocation.

“These are communities which have suffered significant tragedies the last year, and the governor saw this as a way for the state wrap its arms around them and support them as they continue to heal,” said Jaime Smith, the governor’s spokeswoman.

Johnson said he had wanted to be sure he set the right tone for the governor. He also didn’t want to linger at the podium. His comments and prayer lasted two minutes.

“We’ve had a lot happen this last year that has affected our state,” Johnson said in a preamble to his prayer. “One thing that has stuck out to me most is our ability to come together.

“I have seen a sense of community that I have not seen in a long time amongst the citizens of Washington. From Oso, from Arlington, from Darrington, from Marysville to the fires in Central and Eastern Washington, it’s just amazing,” Johnson said.

“My hope and my prayer for the rest of this year and years to come is that we can continue this sense of unity and that it doesn’t always take a great disaster to do so,” he said.

The Marysville Pilchuck choir’s 30 members stood in two lines in the center aisle of the House chamber as they performed a four-part harmony arranged by Kirk Marcy, director of choir at Edmonds Community College and an alum of the 1950s a cappella group the Four Freshman.

John Rants, the choir director, said he reached out to Marcy, a longtime friend, because he knew the arrangement to be poignant and appropriate for an event of such magnitude.

Students had never done the rendition in front of such a crowd.

“It was a great honor,” said Jessica Hamilton, a Marysville Pilchuck junior. “We all knew we were asked to come because of the tragedy. This shined a light on it and showed that great things can come out of such a negative.”

Senior JJ Valencia said he didn’t feel any pressure representing fellow students because he was already feeling pressure to perform well.

“All eyes were on us down in the center,” he said. “It was really cool to be able come out to the Capitol and meet the governor and be part of this.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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