Transpo 2015: Carbon taxes a risky revenue source

The problems with the governor’s proposed transportation package begin with its revenue source. By basing the package on an all-new cap-and-trade carbon taxing system, the package’s finances start on shaky ground.

The Seattle Times called the carbon tax-based transportation financing “imaginative, but untested and risky.”

To ask legislators to pass, in this session, the cap-and-trade system that the transportation package is based on is asking too much – but further delay of needed transportation improvements is unacceptable.

Rep. Judy Clibborn, a Mercer Island Democrat and chair of the House Transportation Committee, expressed her own doubts. She told a gathering of Eastside chambers of commerce:

I think that’s a really heavy lift to take a brand-new concept, and that has a relatively unproven revenue stream, and try and get that through the House and Senate with so many unknowables.

So, it’s easy to default to the gas tax, and not go into having all of the learning that would go into, how would we implement and what would the true revenue be? Because it’s still, to me, unclear for the cap-and-trade or the carbon tax.

The state cannot fund transportation upgrades with an unproven revenue stream and a revenue total that is still unclear. That would put projects at risk, and the bond market would likely balk.

The Times also added in its editorial:

Lawmakers must ensure a final transportation deal includes some reforms to rein in costs for taxpayers, as well as assurances that any new taxes would not hurt the economy.

They’re right. We know the reforms we need. Taxpayers want new investments, but they need to see action within WSDOT so they know their gas tax dollars will be well spent. A package this year, with key reforms, is doable – Olympia, get it done.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.