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caption: Governor Jay Inslee.
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Governor Jay Inslee.
Credit: Flickr Photo/GovInslee (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Carbon tax could be uphill fight for Washington governor

Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed a carbon tax within weeks of Washington voters' rejecting what would have been the nation's first such tax. Inslee's proposal is a big part of his plan to raise $4 billion in new revenue, with $3 billion of it going to improve education.

Reducing carbon emissions — the main driver of global warming — has been a priority for Inslee since before he became governor in 2013, but he's had little luck getting his proposals through the state legislature.

His latest proposal would tax carbon at $25 a ton, enough to raise the price of gasoline by about 25 cents a gallon and raise about $2 billion a year in revenue.

This year's failed Initiative 732 would have imposed a similar carbon tax but cut other taxes so the overall tax burden on the economy would be roughly the same. Inslee's proposal would funnel the new tax revenue into environmental and job programs, but mostly to education.

"It's time to fully fund education," Inslee said in announcing his plan to raise taxes on professional services and capital gains as well as create a new tax on carbon. "It's time to end the 30 years of under-funding education. And I'm committed to doing that in 2017."

Lobbying groups on both sides of the issue, and Inslee himself, said his proposal could face an uphill battle.

"I know this is a heavy lift," Inslee said.

"Desperate needs"

"I think the only way something like this moves forward is in the context of the desperate needs for K-12 education funding and mental health," said Becky Kelley of the Washington Environmental Council.

Climate scientists say the need to reduce emissions is also desperate if the world is to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.

With the incoming Donald Trump administration dismissive of climate science, government action on climate for the next four years could be limited to efforts by individual states and cities.

"If we're serious about reducing emissions, then we need to design a program that will put the dollars back toward investing in the technologies, the research and development to further reduce the emissions," said Brandon Houskeeper with the Association of Washington Business.

The business association has fought Inslee's past efforts on carbon. It also raised $1.4 million from various businesses to fight this year's carbon tax ballot measure, according to Washington Public Disclosure Commission records.

Some liberal activists and environmental groups also fought the ballot measure, even though such groups for years have called for taxing or capping carbon emissions to fight climate change.

Jill Mangaliman with Got Green and Rebecca Saldaña with Puget Sound SAGE, two social-justice nonprofits that opposed this year's carbon tax ballot measure, did not respond to interview requests for this story.

Washington Environmental Council's Becky Kelley said environmentalists generally support Inslee's goal to to put a price on carbon pollution and want to make sure it doesn't hurt low-income communities. She said they will bring their own proposal for a carbon tax to the legislature in the new year.