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December 12, 2014 at 1:43 PM

Inslee: Cap-and-trade climate plan can fund schools and bridges

In advance of his budget roll-out next week, Gov. Jay Inslee is making the case that the sort of cap-and-trade system he favors to cut carbon pollution can also generate cash for schools, bridges and other needs.

Speaking at a Seattle conference hosted by the liberal Washington State Budget and Policy Center, Inslee said his budget will link his climate agenda to education and transportation funding – arguing it could amount to a “two-fer” or even a “three-fer.”

“There is a good way, instead of just using taxes to build a bridge, why not use a charge on pollutions to build not only a bridge, but also clean air so kids can breathe. You get a two-fer,” Inslee said. “That’s what we’re going to do.”

Inslee said his plan will make “polluting industries pay” for state needs “rather than low-income people.” The governor plans to unveil his 2015-17 budget proposal next week over the course of four days, starting Monday with his education proposal.

The Democratic governor also took a shot at the fossil-fuels industry and other critics who already have started to campaign against his proposals by raising fears of higher gas prices. “What is coming is an assault by the polluting industries who hate the thought they’ll have to rein in their pollution,” Inslee warned.

Inslee’s budget plan is expected to include more than $1 billion in new taxes and revenue to cover what his budget office says is a $2.35 billion budget gap to pay for needs including added K-12 classroom funding required by the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, as well as pay raises for state employees and teachers.

Inslee has not said which taxes he’ll look to increase, but Democrats have talked about trying to impose a capital-gains tax and eliminating some tax breaks for businesses.

It’s not clear whether or how the cap-and-trade system Inslee desires would raise money for the 2015-17 budget. Such programs cap total carbon emissions and require industries to purchase permits to emit carbon. Inslee pointed to cap-and-trade systems in the northeastern U.S. and Europe as examples.

A law passed by the state Legislature in 2008 requires Washington to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. But Inslee pointed out lawmakers have never approved a mechanism to make that happen.

Inslee’s agenda on taxes and climate change will face a tough test in Olympia, as Republicans now have an outright majority in the state Senate. Democrats still control the state House, but by a slimmer margin than in previous years.

State Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, who also spoke at Friday’s conference, said he’s skeptical of Inslee’s climate plans, comparing the governor’s talk of “two-fers” and “three-fers” to late night TV infomercials: “But wait, there’s more!”

Baumgartner said Republicans will consider Inslee’s proposals but said the real solution to state budget problems is to better prioritize spending.

Comments | More in Governor, State government, State Legislature | Topics: 2015 Legislature, budget, climate change

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