Why do Washington voters keep rejecting a carbon fee?

Nov 8, 2018, 5:43 AM | Updated: 5:50 am

This is the second time Washington voters have rejected some incarnation of a carbon fee, which would have been the first of its kind in the United States. It appears to be as unpopular here as it is everywhere else. The question is: Why?

“I think it reminds us that voters in Washington state are fiscally pretty conservative,” former Republican Attorney General of Washington Rob McKenna told Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross. “They have to be sophisticated enough to know that they should vote ‘No’ on the pollution fee, but vote ‘Yes’ to say ‘No’ to grocery taxes.”

Washington state’s latest carbon fee attempt did not pass with just 44 percent of early vote counts. Initiative 1631 proposed to place a $15 per metric ton fee on carbon emissions in Washington, starting in 2020. That fee would go up by $2 every following year. Revenue from the fee would be managed by a board and dedicated to environmental purposes.

Why McKenna supported the 2016 carbon fee, but not the 2018 version

“I supported the carbon fee back in 2016 because it was revenue neutral, it would have cut the sales tax, while increasing the cost of carbon to address climate change. I thought that was the way to go.”

This year, not so much. McKenna says he could not support this year’s carbon fee because it was not revenue neutral, and provided a large revenue increase to the state government that would have been controlled by an unelected board.

Check local election results

“Well, it turns out that it’s losing by the same margin as the straight up carbon tax, even though that had a tax cut built into it,” McKenna said. “So voters may be speaking pretty clearly here that they’re just not interested in going that direction.”

McKenna is not entirely opposed to a carbon tax, but believes that other taxes need to be reduced so it’s not simply a source of new tax revenue for the state.

“If you want less of it consumed, make it more expensive. But don’t penalize people. Any time you put a fee on a basic commodity, it is by nature a regressive tax. And I think that’s unacceptable unless it’s offset by a comparable reduction in another regressive tax, like the sales tax,” McKenna said. “It turns out voters don’t really care about those economic niceties; they’re going to vote ‘No’ either way. So I think this is probably done for awhile.”

“Nationally, this measure had a lot of people watching it from across the country, who hoped to pass similar carbon pricing measure there. Since it couldn’t pass in Washington, it might cause them to rethink it for other states as well,” he added.

RELATED: I-1631 carbon fee going up in smoke following early returns

Dave Ross on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dave rossTune in to KIRO Radio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

Dave's Commentary

Dave Ross

MyNorthwest Staff

Fahrenthold predicts government will not shut down over debt ceiling vote

KIRO Radio's Dave Ross asked Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold: Is the government going to close and is the treasury going to default?
15 hours ago
lost cause...
Dave Ross

Ross: Beware, politicians, of the lost cause

America is days away from a shutdown, a self-inflicted default, and the last chance to pass bills that will determine whether Joe Biden is relevant or not.
15 hours ago
MyNorthwest Staff

Persistent ‘long-COVID’: Research suggests the immune system itself might be to blame

Mercer Island’s Dr. Gordon Cohen unpacks new research coming out of the University of Arkansas to better understand “long COVID,” or “COVID long-haulers.”
2 days ago
fans, normal...
Dave Ross

Ross: Almost back to normal weekends

This weekend had highs, it had lows, and it was almost possible to entertain the thought that things are getting back to normal.
2 days ago
teacher of the year, Jerad Koepp...
MyNorthwest Staff

Meet the 2022 Washington State Teacher of the Year: Jerad Koepp

Jerad Koepp is Washington State Teacher of the Year for 2022. He is a Native American specialist for the North Thurston County Public Schools.
4 days ago
airport, freedom...
Dave Ross

Ross: You have the freedom to fly, or to stay home

When you enter an airport, you give up your freedom. Everybody knows this. If you don’t like it, exercise your freedom to stay home.
5 days ago

Sponsored Articles

IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
Courtesy of JWatch Photography....
Experience Anacortes

Summer Fun Activities in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
By Alaska Airlines

Calling all football fans: follow Russell on the road

Take your Northwest spirit that we’re known for on the road this season with Alaska Airlines.
By Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
Why do Washington voters keep rejecting a carbon fee?