Sure, Inslee’s energy tax would change the climate. But which climate?

Jan 25, 2018

— Jan. 25, 2018

Governor Inslee jetted off this week to the Swiss Alps, to talk about the climate. It was interesting how he described the energy tax he wants to impose on the folks back home – what he called “America’s first carbon tax.”

Inslee’s energy tax would undoubtedly change the climate. Meaning the business climate across Washington. And the financial climate in countless Washington households. But there’s no guarantee it would change any other climate.

When Inslee brought up SB 6203 today, he glossed right over how the $20/ton tax he wants on carbon emissions will make a whole lot of prices go up. Start with 20 cents more for a gallon of gas (a 40% increase in state taxes on fuel) but no road improvements in exchange. Higher heating and cooling and electricity bills for employers and households. Higher costs for manufacturers who can’t avoid emitting carbon through their industrial processes. Higher charging costs for electric vehicles. Basically, anything that involves road travel or a power line or fuel will cost more.

The governor also didn’t volunteer how the energy tax amounts to him doubling down against our state’s non-aerospace manufacturers. First he vetoed the manufacturing tax-fairness bill that passed with such solid bipartisan support in 2017, and now this. (The manufacturing-tax change was just reintroduced as SB 6542.)

Also, Inslee didn’t tell the Davos crowd how his proposal would hit lower- and middle-income families harder. Why are so many in the “progressive” (liberal) wing of the Senate Democrats sponsoring such a regressive tax as legislation?

The pitch in the governor’s state-of-the-state speech noted how British Columbia and California have “carbon pricing,” and Oregon is considering it, so “we would simply join our West Coast neighbors.” That reminds me how parents ask children whether they’d jump off a bridge just because their friends did.

Inslee’s energy tax may get style points in Switzerland. But the harm it would do to our state’s business and household climates is, to paraphrase an old movie line, a heck of a price to pay for being stylish.

So far the only carbon-reduction bill to come out of either legislative chamber was passed by the Republican-led Senate in 2015, and the reason is simple. It was (and still is) a smarter approach that would give employers new incentive to move toward clean energy, instead of beating them with the tax-and-fee stick. And without sticking it to families who don’t care about the governor’s aspirations.