Carbon tax or gas tax, state transportation package must pass

Gov. Jay Inslee calls it a “two-fer.”

The governor’s transportation budget calls for $12 billion in spending, including $81.8 million for specified projects in Everett and Marysville. We’re hopeful for more than that. Inslee said that new revenue numbers suggested that a projected $350 million in unspecified transportation projects across the state will most likely total $600 million to $650 million. It will be up to the Legislature to determine how and where that money is allocated.

With Economic Alliance Snohomish County having identified as much as $1.076 billion in necessary projects in Snohomish County to serve the state’s largest concentration of manufacturing jobs in aerospace and technology, we hope the county’s legislative delegation is ready to scrap for a significant chunk of that money.

That’s half of the two-fer.

The other half is in how Inslee proposes to raise needed revenues for transportation projects as well as maintenance and operation. Most lawmakers have been steeling themselves for an increase of the gas tax, perhaps as much as 15 cents a gallon. But Inslee’s transportation budget, among other revenue initiatives in the general fund budget, is asking the Legislature to consider using bonds, other fees and adoption of a “carbon charge” — we’ll call it what it is: a tax — on industrial polluters, in particular the oil and gas industry, assessing a charge for every ton of carbon dioxide emitted. While bringing in revenue for transportation, Inslee said, the carbon tax also encourages industry to find ways to limit pollution and make the state’s air and water cleaner.

It’s a system already in use in California and the Northeastern U.S. and also one that has been used nationwide federally to limit emissions of sulfur dioxide, Inslee said during an interview Thursday in Bellevue with The Herald and other Sound Publishing newspapers.

Inslee admits that the oil and gas industry are likely to pass the tax on down to the consumer, but his office believes that would result in at most a 12-cent increase in the cost of gas over a 12-year period, remarkably similar to the 15-cent gas tax that “Republicans are suddenly in love with,” he said.

Revenue from the carbon tax would be split: 40 percent for transportation spending, 40 percent for the general fund and 20 percent to mitigate increases in energy costs for low-income families but also to assist companies that might be negatively affected by the tax because of out-of-state competition not subject to such a cost of doing business.

Inslee’s carbon tax proposal is worth the Legislature’s consideration, but we are wary that a transportation package might again held up in the Legislature because of differences over how to fund it. We can’t accept Inslee’s two-fer becoming a no-fer. A transportation package — one that includes a carbon tax, a gas tax or some other source of revenue — must be adopted.

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