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Washington State Voters to Weigh In on Carbon Tax Next November

April 20, 2016 By Cheryl Kaften

Voters in Washington State will go to the polls next November 8 to vote on a carbon emission tax initiative that would impose a tariff on the sale or use of certain fossil fuels and fossil-fuel generated electricity.

If passed, Initiative Measure No. 732 is intended to “encourage sustainable economic growth with a phased-in one-percentage-point reduction of the state sales tax, a reduction of the business and occupation tax on manufacturing, and the implementation and enhancement of the existing working families’ sales tax exemption for qualifying low-income persons – all funded by a phased-in carbon pollution tax on fossil fuels sold or used in this state and on the consumption or generation in this state of electricity generated by the consumption of fossil fuels,” the measure states.

The tax rate would be $15 per metric ton (t) of carbon dioxide (CO2) as of July 1, 2017; increasing to $25/t  as of July 1, 2018, with automatic increases thereafter by 3.5 percent plus inflation.

According to Carbon Washington, which describes itself as the non-partisan grassroots group that supports the ballot measure, it would encourage “individuals and businesses to reduce their use of fossil fuels, while also making Washington’s tax code more fair by reducing a tax that hurts lower-income people the most — the sales tax. Many people will be better off — and the climate and our air quality will be much better off.”

On its website, the group has posted a revenue neutral carbon tax swap calculator, saying, “We estimate that an average family will save a few hundred dollars a year in reduced sales taxes and pay a few hundred dollars a year more in carbon taxes. Many working families in the bottom 20 percent (by income) will pay less than half the taxes they do now.”

According to Carbon Washington, the following advocacy groups also have come out in support of the initiative: 350 Seattle; Citizens’ Climate Lobby; Climate Action Bainbridge; Climate Action Ministry; Feet First’; Olympic Climate Action; Oregon Climate; RE-Sources for Sustainable Communities; Seattle Transit; SolTerra Systems; Terra Property Analytics; UW Divest; and Washington Unitarian Universalist Voices.

However, the initiative does have detractors – among them, Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson , who said, “At a time our state is struggling to fund basic services — including public schools, mental health facilities, and many other essential services — I-732 would send Washington in the wrong direction and create more damaging austerity choices.”

In addition, the Washington State Democratic Party issued the following statement: “Whether the initiative is revenue negative or not, we think it’s poorly written. We do appreciate that proponents of I-732 are well-intentioned people who want to take action to address the climate crisis. However, we cannot support their approach.

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