Trust is a fleeting thing. It takes a long time to build it, but it can be wiped away in an instant.
That’s why it’s perplexing that Gov. Jay Inslee is considering instituting a low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) by executive order. This was a major point of contention during negotiations this year over the new state transportation package.
In fact, it’s been a point of contention since the very start of his administration, when transportation negotiations began. Last month he agreed to a provision in the law that would transfer $700 million in transit, pedestrian, and bike lane funding to highway projects if he uses an executive order to institute an LCFS.
Supporters of an LCFS called the provision a “poison pill”. Legislative Republicans said its inclusion was necessary to gain their trust in, and their votes for, a transportation package. Inslee agreeing to the provision was viewed as a moment of leadership, subsuming a personal ambition so we could move forward on a transportation package that our state needs.
Now he is publicly considering an executive order on LCFS anyway – and destroying the tenuous trust built by the successful transportation negotiations. Inslee knew the only way to gain enough votes for a transportation package was to agree to the LCFS provision, and he saw how his statement agreeing to it was interpreted by all sides as him accepting that there would be no new rule.
Where deal making by Democrats is concerned, this is in line with the episode three weeks ago on the Senate floor where Democrats again parsed their words to achieve political gain. To reverse course now would no doubt make an impression on legislators, and not the good kind. From Jerry Cornfield’s column:
Several people, including Democratic lawmakers, reportedly told Inslee not to do it. They argued that he amassed valuable political capital by appearing to set aside his agenda when he signed the bill with the GOP provision. All that good will disappears if he decides to seek a new fuel standard, they said.
The governor can claim that when he agreed to accept the poison pill, he made no promises about not signing an LCFS. That is true in the narrowest sense. After the media and leading legislators applauded him for his willingness to compromise for the good of the state the governor conveniently stayed silent, failing to clarify what is quickly emerging as his true intent.
The Governor has yet to decide whether to move forward on a new fuel standard. We should hope that transit and pedestrian advocates can convince him that this is a poor choice, to say nothing of those that would be affected by the rocketing gas prices that could result.
But this isn’t just about an LCFS (which is a bad idea). It’s about whether legislators can negotiate with the governor in good faith. If they cannot, it’s likely the 2016 session will be long on dueling press releases and short on real accomplishments. It’s simply a matter of trust.