Another blow to carbon pricing
Inslee has backed several approaches to putting a price on carbon emissions since he took office eight years ago. None passed, either in the Legislative Assembly or at the ballot box.
But the governor plans to try again in 2021. This week, he proposed revisiting something he first proposed six years ago: capping greenhouse gas emissions from Europe’s biggest polluters. state, then lower those pollution limits over time.
It’s part of a cap and trade plan that would also create a market where polluters could buy and trade allowances, which could be used to help meet emissions reduction requirements.
State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, who is sponsoring the measure and working with the governor to flesh out the details, said this year’s proposal is different from those in previous years because it would have a stiffer cap on emissions. Polluters would have fewer opportunities to avoid actually reducing their emissions, such as buying offsets or finding other ways to meet legal requirements, Carlyle said.
“It really achieves Paris Agreement-level reductions,” Carlyle said of the new plan.
The measure would also raise funds. Carlyle estimated that the plan would generate between $600 million and $1 billion in revenue per year, but it’s not yet known exactly how much, as the details are still being worked out.
Inslee said the money raised by the cap and trade plan would be invested in clean energy programs and social equity measures, with a focus on helping communities of color who have been disproportionately affected by climate change.
However, this is all a bit far in the future. While the Governor explained how money from the cap and trade plan would be used to fund the Working Families Tax Credit, a program for low-income families that the Legislature approved more ten years old but never funded, Inslee also isn’t paying the tax credit in its 2021-23 budget.
Instead, he’s more or less suggesting that the legislature consider paying for this program later, using money from his long-term climate action plan.
Inslee is also renewing his efforts to get the Legislature to pass a clean fuels standard, one of his priorities that has failed to clear the state Senate for the past two years.
New office to investigate police use of force
The Governor has deployed approximately $365 million in proposals Monday which he said would help reduce social inequalities, including institutional racism.
As part of that set of proposals, Inslee said it would seek $26 million to create an independent office to investigate police use of force.
A task force recommended the independent office after the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Manuel Ellis in Tacoma.
More money to build things
When it comes to transportation, the governor is very focused on fish.
There’s a reason for that: The state is under a court order to replace hundreds of fish-blocking culverts that impede salmon migration and thereby violate treaties with Native American tribes.
The governor’s transportation budget, which is separate from his operating budget, would spend $724 million over two years to help the state Department of Transportation design 136 fish barrier removal projects, as well as replace 114 barriers that prevent salmon from reaching their spawning grounds.
Although the governor is not proposing a new transportation package that relies on a gas tax increase or other taxes, he is proposing $400 million in maintenance for existing roads and bridges, “so that ‘they don’t fall apart,’ he said. It’s also offering about $190 million to continue electrifying the state’s ferries.
But the governor’s budget does not include an exhaustive list of transportation projects, which would likely have to be funded by new taxes. For example, his plan does not address Seattle’s troubled West Bridge, which the City of Seattle expects will cost $47 million in upfront construction costs to repair.
Nor is it providing money to build a new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River in Vancouver, which is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The governor has budgeted just $22 million to cover planning costs for the bridge connecting Washington and Oregon.
The governor is suggesting starting several other construction projects earlier, offering a larger than usual capital construction budget that he says would help boost the state’s economy.
To address statewide homelessness, the governor wants to spend about $220 million to build about 3,390 affordable housing units.
It also wants to spend $50 million over the next two years to expand the use of improved shelters, an alternative to overcrowded shelters and mats on the floor for homeless people.
About $120 million would be used to design and build a new 120-bed nursing facility to care for people with intellectual and physical disabilities.
About $800 million would pay for 80 school projects across the state.
After many schools spent less than expected this year during the pandemic, Inslee would direct about $400 million of those savings to help students recover from learning losses that occurred during school closures. This money could be spent on things like extra teaching hours, tutoring, or other student support services.
Republicans, who are in the minority in both houses of the Washington Legislature, have previously signaled that they think Inslee’s proposal would cost too much.
State Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver and a ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said families are already struggling to cope with the economic fallout from the pandemic, including from the orders of ‘Inslee closing some businesses.
“The last thing they need is a new health care tax — during a pandemic, no less,” Wilson said in a written statement, referring to Inslee’s proposed tax on health insurance policies.
House GOP budget leader Drew Stokesbary, an Auburn state representative, criticized Inslee for not paying the working families tax credit in his two-year budget as offering “nothing more than empty promises”.
“Those hoping for a fiscally responsible budget will be deeply disappointed,” Stokesbary said in a press release.
The governor’s new budget proposal would spend about $5.5 billion more than the two-year budget he signed into law in 2019. But Inslee’s budget office also estimates the cost of maintaining programs existing ones has grown by about $4 billion since then.
House and Senate lawmakers will come up with their own budgets in the spring, which may or may not include the governor’s recommendations.
This article has been updated to clarify that the cost of the Governor’s proposed tax on health insurance policies is estimated to be $3 per month.