Lawmakers in Olympia are continuing their rounds of committee hearings this week, while budget writers work behind the scenes on state spending and tax plans for the 2019-21 biennium. The revenue forecast released Wednesday shows legislators have $50.5 billion to work with — 9.6 percent more money than current spending levels of about $46.1 billion. Records show Washington residents now pay the highest tax burden ever.
The Governor and Democrats in the Legislature have called for tax increases on top of these higher revenues, including a $3.7 billion capital gains income tax and hikes in business taxes, boosting spending to nearly $55.0 billion if the governor’s plan is enacted.
In contrast, Republican lawmakers are calling for tax cuts to ease the burden on businesses and consumers.
House Democrats have said they will release and start acting on their budget proposals as early as next week.
Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Environment, Energy and Technology voted to advance HB 1110, the clean-fuel standards bill, along a party-line vote. Democrats passed the bill, which is a key component of Governor Inslee’s climate-change agenda, in the House last week by a 53-43 vote. It would require the Department of Ecology to impose harsh limits on future greenhouse gas emissions generated by transportation fuels to 10 percent below 2017 levels by 2028, and 20 percent below 2017 levels by 2035.
In voting for the bill, majority Democrats on the Senate committee praised Governor Inslee for “taking the lead on carbon policy and doing the heavy lifting.” Republican committee members, however, argued that, like in California, the restrictions proposed in the bill would cause fuel prices to rise, resulting in an additional tax on gas. Rep. Andrew Barkis (R-Olympia) said: “The taxpayers in this state know there are better solutions in creating a clean energy future without increasing taxes and higher energy costs. House Bill 1110 goes directly against everything the voters, the taxpayers, have said ‘no’ to for the past several years.”
The bill was referred to the Senate Transportation Committee for further consideration.
Also this week, the House Committee on Environment and Energy voted to advance SB 5116, which would eliminate all coal-fired resources for generating electricity by 2025 and require all electricity supplied by utilities to be greenhouse gas neutral by 2030. The bill is another part of Governor Inslee’s climate-change agenda, and passed the Senate by a partisan vote of 28-19 earlier this month, on the same day the governor announced his campaign for U.S. President. The bill was referred to the House Finance Committee for review. An executive session by the committee to consider the bill is scheduled for March 26th.
The Washington Supreme Court this week took up a case on whether the state Department of Ecology has the authority to order utilities, oil refineries and other energy suppliers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The department tried to impose such rules in 2016, after the legislature rejected the so-called “cap-and-trade” system proposed by Governor Inslee in 2015. A trial court ruled later ruled that the department exceeded its authority.
The court is expected to rule on the case in the coming months.
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