Rep. Joe Schmick | An environmental gas tax and more employer taxes – Olympia just doesn’t listen
Voters around the state should be concerned that their voice is not being heard in Olympia. Two of the first bills passed by the House of Representatives would increase business taxes on employers and potentially raise gas prices by 57 cents per gallon and diesel by up to 63 cents per gallon.
Contrast this with recent action at the polls where voters rejected a carbon pricing scheme, have continually rejected a state income tax, and voted in favor of $30 car tabs multiple times.
Additionally, in 2015, the Washington Gas Tax Increase Advisory Vote that followed the adoption of the 11.9 cent gas tax increase showed that 64.37 percent of the voters wanted it repealed.
It's no wonder one of the most popular emails I get is, “Is anybody listening?”
Sadly, the answer seems to be no.
House Bill 1110, which passed the state House and now awaits action in the Senate, would allow the state Department of Ecology to create a low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS). Ostensibly, to help the environment by emitting less carbon into the atmosphere from the transportation sector.
However, in the majority party's rush to be like California they seem to ignore the fact that even that state is attempting to backtrack on their own plan as they've seen gas and diesel prices increase. California's nonpartisan Legislative Analysis Office concluded that the low-carbon fuels program was the most inefficient method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
We all want clean air and water, and thankfully, in Washington state, we have plenty of both. If we were serious about reducing the amount of carbon our state puts into the air, we would change how we manage our forests. One bad wildfire has the potential to wipe out a decade's worth of “carbon savings” from the LCFS plan and more.
Instead, the majority party is risking jobs, family budgets and even our economy. Especially hit hard would be families, those living on fixed incomes, and farmers, who are already operating on thin margins. Add to this the potential wear and tear these new biofuels cause to engines and the costs to our agriculture industry is magnified.
While the LCFS could still be defeated in the state Senate, a tax increase on employers has already sailed through the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Senate Bill 6492 increases the business and occupation (B&O) tax for thousands of employers in our state. The bill was rushed through the legislative process in order to fix a problem…created by a bill that was rushed through the legislative process last year!
In the 2019 session, legislation was passed to make the Washington College Grant program available for all students at or below 100 percent of the median family income. The bill also made it an entitlement program, meaning any budgetary shortfall would be backfilled by the state's general fund.
However, as the law took effect, more students signed up for the scholarships than predicted (who doesn't want free college, right?) and the Department of Revenue (DOR) recognized problems with the implementation that led to reduced tax collections.
With record revenues coming into the state, and over a billion dollars in surplus since the Legislature left Olympia last spring, one could hope that existing funds would be used instead of asking employers and taxpayers for more.
Instead, the majority party, with the blessing and support of Gov. Inslee, decided to tax 4,400 more businesses. In total, this new scheme will impact around 14,000 employers and 886,000 jobs according to DOR.
To add insult to injury, larger companies like Google, Amazon, and the state's most vocal proponent of this new tax increase – Microsoft – would have their contributions capped at $9 million per year. We offered several amendments to this bill, including one to allow large software companies to pay as much as they want. But all were defeated.
The bottom line is this. The actions taken during the first 30 days of the 2020 legislative session will make life more unaffordable for Washington families and businesses. This, at a time when voters continually give the Legislature clear direction, which the Legislature then clearly ignores.
It calls to mind the old cell phone commercial line of “Can you hear me now?” For voters in this state, the deafening answer coming from Olympia is a loud NO.
(Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, serves on the House Appropriations Committee.)