Don Jenkins/Capital Press
OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee presented a budget Thursday that relies on a two-year $1.5 billion carbon tax to speed-up and sustain higher teacher salaries ordered by the state Supreme Court.
Inslee, speaking at a press conference, said putting a price on greenhouse gases will help K-12 education and respond to climate change.
Washington “is being ravaged by climate change. We saw the ash on the hood of our cars this summer,” said Inslee, referring to smoke from wildfires that blew over Puget Sound. “We need to act, and this is one way of doing it, at the same time we fill this educational mandate.”
The budget proposal will go to the 2018 Legislature and would amend a two-year $43.7 billion spending plan that lawmakers passed in June. Inslee’s plan would increase the budget to $44.6 billion.
Some $950 million would go to increase pay for public school employees. The budget passed in June provided for the pay increases beginning with the 2019-20 school year, but the Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to raise salaries a year sooner.
A carbon tax would not be needed to balance the current budget. But the revenue would be needed to maintain the salaries and restore a reserve fund spent down to speed-up the pay hikes.
The Legislature has not acted on previous carbon-tax proposals from Inslee, who has made climate change his signature issue. The Washington Farm Bureau’s policies include opposition to any carbon tax, which would presumably increase the cost of fuel and other manufactured goods, such as fertilizer.
Inslee said he will propose what he called a “carbon pricing plan” in January, but declined to reveal specifics Thursday.
“We’re going to have all of these details for you in January,” Inslee said. “We are still working on some of the details of the proposal”
Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said he was concerned about Inslee’s proposal to tap the reserve fund.
“I also worry the governor’s as-yet-unveiled ‘carbon pricing plan’ would affect family jobs in Washington. If he can’t explain the difference between a carbon tax and a carbon pricing plan, then it’s a tax. It is an energy tax,” Schoesler said in a written statement.
Democrats regained control of the Senate in a special election in November. Democrats have been in control of the House during Inslee’s administration but have not passed a carbon tax.
Inslee focused on funding education when he talked Tuesday about the carbon tax. “It also skins another cat, which is to fight climate change,” he said.
Under the plan approved by lawmakers earlier this year, base teacher salaries were to be increased from $36,521 to $59,333 in 2018-19 and then $65,385 in 2018-19. The Supreme Court wasn’t satisfied and ordered lawmakers to boost pay to the higher level by next school year.