Tag: Jay Inslee (Page 1 of 5)

OPINION | (Not) A time for dithering: Inslee’s failure to lead on transparency would be a significant political moment

The legislature made a very bad decision last week when 83 members of the House and 47 members of the Senate voted to pass ESB 6617, a bill that would reject a court’s ruling that the legislature is subject to state law requiring government agencies to allow public access to their records.

ESB 6617 was rammed through at high-speed and with a spirit of unity that we don’t often see in Olympia. But even as lawmakers were high-fiving in the wings, a critical response came booming from every corner of the media.

Notwithstanding some very odd attempts to defend the bill, including a meandering and somewhat incoherent explanation by newly minted state Senator Manka Dhingra of the 45th legislative district, outrage over the legislature’s attempt to maintain a tight grip on public records continued to build.

The 12 largest daily newspapers across the state have each published front-page editorials condemning the legislature’s bill and urging (or, in many cases, demanding) that Inslee veto the measure. Television and radio news hosts have aired commentaries and asked viewers to call the governor’s office.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the state’s top legal authority, told the Seattle Times in plain language that Inslee should send the entire bill back to the House and Senate.

And former attorney general Rob McKenna on his blog also issued a harsh rebuke to the legislature for a process that “was improper and showed contempt, unintentionally or not.”

And then there are the voices who really do speak loudest—those of the people. As of Thursday afternoon, Inslee’s office reported that it had received nearly 17,000 calls, emails, on the subject most of which asked for a veto.

Nevertheless, as of Thursday afternoon, voters are still waiting for Inslee to step out and inform the public of what action he will take, if any.

To veto, he would humbly admit that a statement he gave to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that he has no authority to act was wrong.

If Inslee hesitates and allows the bill to become law, then his answer to Hayes that he “can’t [veto], unfortunately, because they have a veto-proof majority, unfortunately, so I don’t have control at this moment” will come back to haunt him when he runs for his next office because it hints at an unwillingness to lead.

It will haunt him first because he is wrong and because perpetuating the misleading idea of a “veto-proof majority” under which the governor has no power will be remembered as a dodge – a vain effort to avoid having to lead. We know it’s a dodge because, as others have noted, these terrifyingly impenetrable veto-proof majorities in the past didn’t stopped Inslee when the cause is something he truly cares about.

When last year Inslee deleted business and occupation tax relief out of a budget that had been negotiated by the legislature – passed by a so-called veto-proof majority – Inslee felt the courage surging through his veins. But on the issue of open and transparent government he publicly frets but has no muscle in right hand to perform the simple task of scribbling his name on the veto line and saying to the lawmakers, “No, this is bad law. Do it again.”

That’s why it probably won’t be the need to support the principle of open government that convinces Inslee to veto. It will be his own political ambitions that pull him over the line.

We hear that Inslee wants to be president someday. Presidential voters are known to vote without reason sometimes, cleaving to a candidate because of a connection made in moments that offer insight into the candidate’s character. This is Inslee’s moment and he is dawdling, dodging, and dithering it away.

But there is still time. He has until midnight Thursday to make up his mind.

OPINION | Gov. Inslee must veto Legislature’s effort to thwart public access to lawmaker’s records

American physicist and co-father of the atomic bomb Edward Teller said, “Secrecy, once accepted, becomes an addiction.”

Late last week, in a secretive and soul-crushingly bipartisan process, lawmakers in Olympia conspired to prove Teller right.

Washington state legislators this session needed to deal with a Superior Court judge’s decision in a lawsuit brought last year by several media organizations and others that ruled that lawmaker’s records are not exempted from state public records laws. The mandate for lawmakers was to create a system for providing the public the same transparency as all other state and local government agencies are legally required to provide. They chose to do the opposite. Instead of embracing the liberating power of sunlight, the vast majority of lawmakers passed a bill that would consolidate firm authority over their own records: Senate Bill 6177.

The process used to ram through SB 6177 matched the cloistered and cynical spirit of the measure. It was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday and without a hearing or open debate was voted on in both the Senate and House on Thursday.

The roll call in the Senate was 47 yea, 7 nay, and one member was absent. Almost immediately the House held its vote and the margin was nearly identical – 83 yeas, 14 nays with one member excused from voting. The roll calls are posted after this article.

SB 6177 is the assurance of a pack of wolves to a flock of sheep that a wolf committee will guarantee that all sheep-related requests will receive action… except the ones they deem in conflict with wolf survival.

Although technically complying with the court’s ruling, SB 6177 would establish a system under which old records would be off-limits from the public and new ones would only be disclosed after the legislature itself decides on whether they can be released. Those decisions would not be subject to judicial review if SB 6177 becomes law. It is the quintessential case of politicians trying to make a promise to the public with their fingers are crossed permanently behind their backs.

SB 6177 is the assurance of a pack of wolves to a flock of sheep that a wolf committee will guarantee that all sheep-related requests will receive action… except the ones they deem in conflict with wolf survival. Sheep, shepherds, and watchdogs alike should rest easy. Right? No, of course, all non-wolves should be on alert.

Our lawmakers must understand that their legitimacy for doing all of this fancy government stuff stems from informed consent; fully informed consent can’t be given without more public knowledge of the process and the players involved in creating laws and public policy.

The people have a fundamental right to judge whether their interests are being served by their elected representatives. In fact, we should take this opportunity to collectively downvote the supposed and oft-quoted wisdom of 19th century German statesman Otto Von Bismarck that lawmaking and sausage-making are activities best not seen too intimately by the public. Not only does it make good sense to put an asterisk beside Bismarck’s thoughts as they might not emanate from the American school of democratic thought – his own political career was perpetuated less by electoral consent than by a series of appointments to successively higher offices – but it’s also a matter of precaution. As consumers of Olympia brand sausage, we can learn to stomach some of the grist and gristle as a necessary step toward getting rid of some of the tainted meat and rodent hair.

SB 6177 now sits on Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk waiting to either be signed (or not signed) into law – only a veto by the governor can give lawmakers a mulligan to reconsider their decision.

Roll Calls of Each Legislative Body on ESB 6617

Washington State Senate

Washington State House of Representatives

[Featured image: jfergusonphotos]

Washington state charter school fix will become law without Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature

On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee ended speculation on whether he might veto a bill passed by the Legislature to restore the state’s public charter school system to legal status.

Instead of taking an action that would have closed schools for thousands of students for the second time in a few months, Inslee chose not to sign the bill, which under state law allows its enactment.

Washington state voters narrowly approved permitting a publicly funded charter school system in 2012, but legal challenges resulted in the state Supreme Court ruling the law unconstitutional the Friday before Labor Day of last year, only days before most enrolled students were to begin classes.

Inslee’s only Republican challenger in this year’s election, Bill Bryant, has been a vocal supporter of charter schools and made a statement on Facebook regarding the governor’s non-signing of a major piece of education legislation:

In a letter sent to Secretary of State Kim Wyman, Inslee laid out his reservations regarding the bill and his reasons for stepping aside to let it become law.

“I am not interested in closing schools in a manner that disrupts the education of hundreds of students and their affected families,” Inslee wrote.

He went on to reiterate his belief that the new law will not resolve his concerns that charter schools lack accountability to the public.

“… I remain deeply concerned about the public accountability and oversight provisions of this bill. At its foundation, our public school system relies upon locally elected boards to oversee expenditures of taxpayer money,” the governor wrote.

Some might say that the fact that the voluntary nature of enrollment in charter schools provides an incentive to provide quality instruction that generates a quicker and more powerful response to the needs of students.  Others might be skeptical of Inslee’s implication that traditional public schools are publicly accountable either.

The 106-year-old state Supreme Court decision that formed the crux of the decision ruling charters unconstitutional last year used language to establish a standard for accountability that most traditional public schools would have a hard time meeting.  From School District No. 20 v. Bryan:

“The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent.”

In the present day, contracts negotiated between elected school officials and teacher’s unions have severed the chain of accountability to voters the Bryan decision sought to protect.  In fact, charter schools are more apt to operate in the spirit of Bryan in this regard.

If Gov. Inslee is truly interested in preserving public accountability — and there’s no reason to suspect that he is not —  then voters should ask him to move forward from his non-signing of this bill and propose major reforms to ensure real accountability in all of our schools.

Click to read Inslee’s letter to Secretary of State Kim Wyman.

Editor's note: After first publication, this article was updated to include a statement made by Bill Bryant on the governor's action.

Column | Inslee’s case for Syrian refugees is based on a seriously flawed reading of history

GYEKENYES- OCTOBER 6 : War refugees at the Gyekenyes Zakany Railway Station on 6 October 2015 in Gyekenyes, Hungary. Refugees are arriving constantly to Hungary on the way to Germany.

GYEKENYES- OCTOBER 6 : War refugees at the Gyekenyes Zakany Railway Station on 6 October 2015 in Gyekenyes, Hungary. Refugees are arriving constantly to Hungary on the way to Germany.

When a Republican politician steps out to take a minority position on the issue of the day, they can expect to be portrayed by the media as an outlier, ranging from simply being out-of-step to an enemy of freedom. When a Democrat swims against strong public opposition, they are labeled a champion.

Today, the Washington Post ran this headline on The Fix political blog: “This governor just made the most powerful argument yet for accepting Syrian refugees.” Building from that grabber, journalist Amber Phillips shined a warm spotlight on Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, one of 10 governors still voicing support for the Obama administration’s plan to bring at least 10,000 refugees into the U.S. And as is so often the case, the media’s effort to lionize another Democratic champion leads with a lie.

Phillips writes with careful intent:

There’s a saying I recall hearing as a child… : “Don’t make decisions when you’re upset.”

If you do, the saying goes, you risk making a decision guided by the same fear and anger that caused you to be upset in the first place instead of making a decision guided by reason.

Having set the scene, Phillips introduces the public to its hero:

That’s essentially the argument Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) made in a succinct but powerful interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Wednesday morning about why America should accept 10,000 Syrian refugees who need a home. America is understandably afraid after the terror in Paris and its roots on the migrant trail from Syria, he said, but if we close the door on Syrian refugees, we are doing so out of fear, not any reality-based rationale — and that would be a mistake.

Then, for those who might still hold on to their concerns, Phillips and Inslee shove a mirror in front of Joe and Jane America, and imply that fear is only a manifestation of darker blemishes on our nation’s soul:

To emphasize his point, Inslee recalled a moment in American history when the nation collectively did just that: Made a mistake because it was afraid.

“I live on Bainbridge Island, this little island just west of Seattle. And it was the first place where we succumbed to fear, in 1941 after Pearl Harbor,” he said. “And we locked up Washington and American citizens, and we sent them to camps for years while their sons fought in the Army in Italy and were decorated fighting for democracy.”

Inslee’s reference of course, is to Japanese internment camps.

Phillips ends her piece by concluding that “reason is a better guide than fear.” Yet, Inslee’s position is not based on reason. His case for welcoming Syrian refugees into the U.S. and Washington state is based on emotion and a very flawed reading of history.

Only two days ago, Inslee made a shaky linkage to compare the Syrian exodus to the Vietnamese refugee crisis of the 1970s. (There had never been serious threats to the homeland stemming from the Vietnam War aside from those committed by homegrown terrorists.) As he skimmed further back in his world history notes to the mid-20th century, the governor’s ability to interpret the lessons of the past is even less steady.

Inslee’s thinly veiled analogy between the forced internment of American citizens who were ethnically Japanese during World War II and the present-day decision to allow Syrian citizens to be settled into the U.S. is ludicrous in the extreme. Depriving U.S. citizens of their rights on the basis of race was an ugly process, but one that bears no similarity to the current case of Syrians.

The governor’s approach is a mix of shame and emotion intended to produce compliance, not consensus. It follows the president’s slanderous line of attack on opponents of the refugee plan. Most disappointing, it further polarizes this important discussion making it harder, if not impossible, to find common ground.

This is the game into which our political discourse has devolved — a rhetorical three-card Monte game in which facts, emotions and half-truths are swapped quickly through the dialogue to produce “truthiness,” a warm feeling that gives us more comfort and social acceptance than reality ever can.

If Inslee was just a professor teaching bad history, the damage from his erroneous lesson would be measured only in dozens of minds wasted. But the concerns of citizens and experts about security risks and whether adequate safeguards can be put in place are legitimate; because the stakes are high we should demand intellectual rigor from those who wish to influence the debate.

[Image credit: iStock]

WA-GOV | Republican Bill Bryant wants caution, ‘strict screenings’ of Syrian refugees

Front-running Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant wants a compassionate but cautious approach to settling Syrian refugees in Washington state to include “strict screenings,” according to a statement made Monday.

“While most Syrian refugees are also just looking for a new start in a free country, we should not let our compassion blind us to legitimate public and personal safety concerns and to those who might take advantage of our generosity and openness,” Bryant said. “We should act compassionately only after it is clear strict screenings have been completed.”

Bryant also indirectly sparred with the man he will almost certainly face next year on the campaign trail, Gov. Jay Inslee.

Earlier Monday, Inslee issued a statement on the Syrian refugee question in which he compared the present-day Syrian exodus to the Vietnamese refugee crisis in the 1970s.

“We have been and will continue to be a state that embraces compassion and eschews fear mongering, as evidenced so well by Republican Gov. Dan Evans’ welcoming of Vietnamese refugees here in the 1970s,” Inslee said.

Bryant disagreed with Inslee’s somewhat flawed history lesson.

“Our situation today is very different from when our state welcomed Vietnamese refugees. I know. I tutored some of those refugees who arrived looking for a new life,” Bryant said.

Gov. Inslee: Washington state will welcome Syrian refugees

Inslee compares present-day Syrian exodus to 1970s Vietnamese refugee crisis

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) is supporting Pres. Barack Obama’s plan to allow thousands of Syrian refugees to settle in the U.S., some of whom may be sent to live in Washington state, according to a statement made Monday.

Controversy has intensified over the issue of allowing people leaving war-torn Syria to settle in Europe and the U.S. has become in the aftermath of last week’s horrific terror attacks in Paris that killed 129. Investigations revealed one of the terrorists who carried out the attacks was carrying a Syrian passport and is believed to have come into Europe as part of a recent Syrian exodus.

Earlier this year, U.S. counterintelligence officials expressed concerns about opportunities for terrorists to hide within refugee populations in order to carry out attacks inside of Western countries.

By speaking out, Inslee chose a side in the hastening debate among governors over whether to support or oppose the Syrian resettlement plan, adding his name to a list of six Democratic governors supporting the president’s proposal.

“I stand firmly with President Obama who said this morning, ‘We do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism,’” Inslee said.

Inslee also asserted that he has very little power in the matter.

“It’s important to note that governors do not decide whether refugees come to their states. Those decisions are made by the federal government…,” Inslee said.

Washington State Chief Refugee Coordinator Sarah Peterson told us by email that the State Department plans to settle just over 3,000 refugees in Washington state during 2016, but that there has been no indication how many of those will be from Syria. A State Department spokesperson said that while there are no official projections on how the Syrian refugees will be allocated among the states next year, those decisions will be made in close coordination with state and local civil society organizations and government elected officials.

Inslee compared allowing Syrian refugees into Washington to former Gov. Dan Evans courageous decision to welcome refugees fleeing war-torn Vietnam in the 1970s. The comparison lacks clarity in any historical context.

It’s true that there were acts of terrorism inside the U.S. during the time Americans were at war with North Vietnam. That violence was undertaken by ultra-nationalist groups and homegrown terrorists such as the founder of both the Weather Underground and Pres. Barack Obama’s political career, Bill Ayers. But at no time were agents of communist Vietnam conducting attacks on the American homeland. And therein lies all the difference in the world.

Opposing the White House plan are 27 governors, including the Democratic governor of New Hamphire, Maggie Hassan. Kentucky Governor-Elect Matt Bevin is not included in that number, but has said he will oppose settlement in his state.

Immediate reactions on Twitter to Inslee’s statement were mixed. Some applauded the decision as a show of tolerance, while others characterized the Democratic chief executive as reckless.

[Note: Updates have been made to this story since original publication. The number of governors opposing the White House refugee plan increased from 19 to 27 and that information has been changed to reflect that fact.]

WA-GOV | Dave Reichert stays put, Bill Bryant sole Republican running to unseat Jay Inslee

U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Auburn)

U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Auburn)

After months of speculation culminating in several weeks of deliberate rumor-stoking, the wait is over. Congressman Dave Reichert (WA-8) will not run for Washington state governor… again.

In a statement released Friday, Reichert expressed concern for the state under current Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s leadership, but said he believes he can best serve the people by seeking re-election to represent Washington’s 8th Congressional District. Reichert wrote:

Like so many of you, I have been extremely disappointed in the decisions coming out of the Governor’s Office — regarding our schools, the health of our children, and most recently a decision to give the Green River serial killer a chance to enjoy life in a nicer prison. We deserve better.

Yet, I believe I can better serve you now, today, in another Washington where politicians are more interested in fighting each other than fighting for America; where leadership has been in retreat, and courage has been on recess.

The fifth-term congressman and former King County Sheriff’s displeasure with Inslee’s performance seems to be shared by voters. The governor’s job approval rating in some non-published polls is soft — hovering in the mid-40s — and the most recent Elway Poll finding that only 30 percent of voters would definitely vote to give the governor a second term each indicate weakness.

Reichert’s decision to remove his name from consideration leaves Republican candidate for governor and Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant with an open field to run in toward the primary, at least for now.

(The absence of any mention of Bryant in Reichert’s statement was noticed by some Republican insiders.)

Seattle Port Commissioner and candidate for governor Bill Bryant

Seattle Port Commissioner and candidate for governor Bill Bryant

Bryant knew his cue and quickly blasted an email to supporters complimenting Reichert for his public service and sending the signal that his campaign was shifting into a higher gear. Bryant wrote:

My campaign for governor of Washington State now moves into a new phase; a phase focused on the challenges confronting our kids, teachers & classrooms, on the challenges confronting communities across Washington that need family wage jobs, and on the challenges facing the Puget Sound and the salmon runs that are part of our history, culture and economy.

Our campaign needs to make some noise, offer the people an alternative leadership style, one that not only articulates a vision, but that is capable of building coalitions that gets stuff done.

State Republican Party Chairwoman Susan Hutchison issued her own statement giving praise to both Reicher and Bryant. Hutchison wrote:

Congressman Reichert has an exemplary record of public service, and the people of his district, Washington State, and the country will be well served by him focusing on his current role.

Republican Bill Bryant is running a strong campaign for Governor, meeting voters across the state and building support to replace the Governor who can’t govern, Jay Inslee.

The relatively minimal statements of Hutchison, Reichert and Bryant marked an important plot point in a story stretching back nearly three years.

Chatter among Republicans as to who could beat Inslee in 2016 began not long after Election Night 2012. Conversations took place at conferences, in coffee shops and among groups gathering through social media, but along the GOP grapevine Bryant’s name wasn’t registering in those early discussions as the top-tier choice of Republicans. Reichert, however, was mentioned often as an A-list option, a candidate with considerable name identification and a persona that matched up against Inslee’s protector archetype. In certain circles, prospects for a run by state Senator Andy Hill (R-Redmond) generated proportional excitement, originating largely from his calm leadership under fire during budget battles in Olympia and his record of winning in part of King County.

Meanwhile, Bryant went to work to build and strengthen his reach across Washington, crisscrossing the state and subjecting himself to the rigors of rubber chicken dinners at Lincoln Day events in nearly every county. He recruited grassroots activists into his campaign and racked up a significant list of endorsements including leading state legislators from both sides of the Cascades, port commissioners, as well former Gov. Dan Evans and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton.

Since launching his official campaign this May, Bryant has also drawn financial support, raising more than $575,000 in the doldrums of the 2nd and 3rd quarters of this year.

[Bryant’s accumulated campaign finances may have been one factor in Reichert’s decision. Reichert’s federal campaign coffers hold just over $607,000 as of Sept. 30, which would put him slightly ahead of Bryant in the fundraising contest, but the procedure for sweeping those monies over for use in a state race is tedious and could reduce the total available. (See “Inslee Discloses Details of Disputed $200K Transfer from Fed Account, Several Donors Over the Max,” Northwest Daily Marker, 9/3/11.)]

Bryant still has a lot of work to do to catch up to Inslee in fundraising. Even contending with several financing blackouts during regular legislative sessions, overtimes and triple overtimes, Inslee has amassed almost $2.4 million, though it’s worth noting that $320,000 of Inslee’s contributions in 2015 came as transfers from the state Democratic machine. Without those as early and necessary cash transfusions, Inslee’s fundraising edge in 2015 narrows to less than $280,000. Not a photo finish, for sure, but neither is it a runaway for the incumbent.

Nevertheless, Team Bryant’s early totals are a respectable ante to play in the contest ahead. As an incumbent holding statewide office, Inslee’s name identification is high and Bryant’s is relatively low; closing the gap will require more than just the candidate’s shoe leather and an army of enthusiastic volunteers.

The question of exactly how much money Bryant will need to raise depends largely on whether he remains the only candidate drawing on Republican and conservative votes in the primary. On the conservative right, there has been very little buzz about potential entrants into the primary who might appeal to voters whose tastes tend more toward Clint Didier, leaving some wondering if a challenge to Bryant from the right could still emerge late in the race.

Cap-and Trade is a Stealth Tax—Don’t Let Inslee Or Anyone Else Tell You Otherwise | Op-Ed

In a previous post, I wrote about two of Gov. Inslee’s highly ironic tax hike proposals. In this post, I’ll write about a third: His de facto tax wrapped up in his cap-and-trade proposal.

The objective of this plan is allegedly to get organizations emitting more than 25,000 tons of CO2 to rein in their carbon dioxide output. In reality, like most things progressives do that increases revenue, the objective is really the revenue bump, but never mind that. Let’s pretend that this is all about what Inslee says it is about, and nothing more. Would you be surprised to know that one of the companies set to see a huge bump in its tax bill is REC Silicon Solar, which makes Solar Polysilicon for use in solar applications?

According to data analyzed by the Washington Policy Center, REC will be forking over in excess of $4 million a year if this plan goes through.

Would you also be surprised to know that Wafertech, owned by Taiwan Semiconductor, which appears also to be in the solar business, would be hit?

According to the analysis, Wafertech will be forking over about $3.5 million a year, if the plan passes.

Others that would be getting a big tax bill include facilities that appear to be generating hydrogen, which is what a lot of environmentalists would like to see power our cars in future, because it’s greener than gas.

These aren’t the types of entity that a lot of progressives think of when they think about corporate polluters that need to be made to pay up for emitting too much CO2. In fact, they seem like the kind of businesses that progressives usually want to promote, stimulate and see more of because they are tied into the green energy economy and provide those famed green-collar jobs. So this is another respect in which Inslee’s proposed tax package is rife with irony.

Also set to be hit with a big cap-and-trade bill under the Inslee proposal are the University of Washington and Washington State University. Could that mean higher fees for students? If so, that’s another ironic, anti-progressive aspect of what Inslee is pushing. Aren’t progressives supposed to be for making college cheaper? (I will refrain from commenting on President Obama’s plan for 529 accounts here).

Again, legislators should think carefully about what is being proposed, and recognize that there’s a better way of dealing with budgetary challenges than this plan.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s New Tax Hikes Are the Wrong Direction for Washington State | Op-Ed

In light of ongoing state fiscal issues, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing a raft of tax hikes.

There are numerous problems with all of these proposed increases (and I’ll write about several of them in this and succeeding posts), but Inslee’s desired jump in taxes on cigarettes sold in our state is one of the three more ironic ones he’s pushing. Why? Inslee has always billed himself as a progressive Democrat. And yet he’s going all in for a tax hike that would if enacted be extremely regressive, as well as very fiscally unsound.

This 2012 study found that poor smokers spend about 14 percent of their household income on cigarettes. According to the left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 29 percent of poor adults smoke, compared to 18 percent of non-poor adults.  A 2007 study by the Heritage Foundation indicates that even before the economy hit rock bottom, more than 25 percent of smokers lived below the federal poverty line, with a further 25 percent living between the poverty line and 200 percent of it. These are the people Inslee wants to tax more, and in so doing, he wouldn’t even be shoring up the state’s revenue base in a sound manner.

There’s a general economic principle that if you tax something, you get less of it. In this case, what Inslee is trying to do is more heavily tax the consumption of legally purchased cigarettes. That might work well from a fiscal standpoint if no smokers were going to quit in response, or alternatively locate, buy and consume untaxed cigarettes that are purchased illegally. But when cigarette taxes go up, some smokers do quit just like anti-tobacco campaigners want them to (we’ll come back to Inslee’s solution to that problem in a bit). But most shift to buying illicitly sold smokes. Inslee doesn’t seem to have a solution to this conundrum, despite the fact that he’s trying to hike the tobacco tax in an already high-tax state that is full of Native American reservations where state tax is often not charged on cigarette purchases made by non-tribal buyers, and which borders Idaho (which has a much lower tax rate than Washington).

Given this situation, it is unsurprising that Washington has one of the highest rates of inbound cigarette smuggling of any state. Nearly half of all cigarettes consumed here are smuggled and thus have gone completely untaxed by Olympia or local governments. Nationally, cigarette smuggling deprives governments of $5.5 BILLION per year.  A fair chunk of this amount is the loss sustained by Washington.

It is unclear why Inslee wants to double down on this problem. Some more conspiracy-minded critics of his plan argue that by pursuing this kind of bad tax policy, he’s making it easier for Washington progressives to force through a state income tax, and a high one at that. More often than not, states that pursue cigarette tax increases wind up missing their revenue targets (in some cases, they even bring in less total revenue after the tax hike than they did before it, as happened in New Jersey and DC), meaning they have to find different, supplemental sources of revenue in future. In this case, that different, supplemental revenue source could be the kind of income tax we see in most American states, but which Washington voters oppose. Irrespective of the reason, doubling down on the smuggling and lost revenue problem seems to be exactly what Inslee is trying to do.

A second problematic component of Inslee’s tax plan is his proposal to jack up taxes on e-cigarettes. This, too, is ironic. Part of the logic for cigarette tax hikes is to force people to quit smoking or at least reduce their likelihood of killing themselves with cancer in chasing their nicotine fix. Higher e-cigarette prices mean more expensive devices of the type that a friend and her husband claim helped them quit smoking, and which various health studies and experts out there—including former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona, former American Lung Association president and CEO Charles D. Connor, and Medical and Executive Director of the American Council on Science and Health Dr. Gilbert Ross—seem to think are less likely to kill than inhaling smoke from a tobacco-filled stick the user set on fire. (Side note: The R Street Institute also has a good post on why this tax increase is silly). But by setting a high tax rate on e-cigarettes, I suppose at least theoretically, Inslee might be dealing with the revenue problem posed by people quitting smoking, as long as they all try an e-cigarette instead of going cold turkey or using Nicorette (given the weather in the Pacific Northwest, I bet most will just go the Nicorette route, though).

Legislators should think carefully about the lack of logic behind these proposals as the session gets underway. There are better budgetary solutions than tax hikes, including the regressive, fiscally unsound and just plain nonsensical ones discussed here. I’ll write more about the third highly ironic tax hike proposal from Inslee in a separate post.

Is Governor Inslee Right About the Impact of Coal Exports on Puget Sound?

Large cargo ship being loaded with coal at the Ridley Island Terminal in British Columbia, Canada. [image: istockphoto.com]

Large cargo ship being loaded with coal at the Ridley Island Terminal in British Columbia, Canada. [image: istockphoto.com]

Would you consider a change of 0.083 percent “unparalleled” and “significant”? Apparently, Governor Jay Inslee does.

Two weeks ago, Governor Inslee visited the Vancouver Columbian editorial board and defended his proposal to require an unprecedented level of analysis regarding proposed export terminals. His process, known as “expanded SEPA,” has never been done before and would attempt to analyze the environmental impact not only of the terminal but of all the products being exported.

The governor told the Columbian he felt this was justified because:

“We know this, wherever the coal is burned, a portion of the coal that is burned ends up in Puget Sound and off our West coast and makes our water more acidic. We will be evaluating the carbon pollution increase associated with the state of Washington and it appears to be significant. It would have a significant increase in the carbon pollution associated with the economic activity and with an unparalleled dimension the increase in carbon pollution associated with these projects would be unparalleled in state history.”

He went on to note that “we’ve had to move some of our oyster operations to less acidic waters because of carbon pollution.”

There are two key claims he makes here:

  1. Human-caused ocean acidification is already causing Washington oyster growers to leave the state.
  2. Coal exports from Washington would have an “unparalleled” impact on Puget Sound and Washington waters.

Both of these claims are wrong.

First, the Governor frequently says that oyster growers are leaving the state. He has stopped, however, saying where they are going. Previously he noted that they moved to Hawaii. It is unlikely that oyster growers looking to avoid ocean acidification would move to the middle of the ocean, which may be one reason the Governor no longer adds that bit of information.

Additionally, the oyster growers that have moved were along the coast, not in Puget Sound. Along the coast, there are natural swings in the pH of the water by 0.6 pH. According to the IPCC, the UN climate change agency, the total contribution of mankind’s carbon emissions to acidity is 0.1 pH since industrialization, over 100 years. The human-caused portion of acidification over 100 years, therefore, is only about seven percent the amount that can occur naturally, in a single day, along the coast (the pH scale is logarithmic, making 0.1 only seven percent of 0.6).

Currents, upwelling and other natural forces, not carbon emissions from burning coal, are the cause of changes in the pH level along the coast. Blaming coal for oyster growers moving to Hawaii is simply unscientific.

Second, using the IPCC’s science, which the left used to call the “scientific consensus,” we can estimate the impact of coal exports from Washington on the Puget Sound.

Like any estimates, there is a margin of error. But, as we will see, even allowing for an wide margin of error, the impact is far from “unparalleled” or even “significant.”

  1. In 2012, China used 4.1 billion tons of coal according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). This number will increase in the future, but this is a good baseline number.
  2. The proposed export terminals could ship about 100 million tons of coal annually.
  3. Exports from Washington, therefore, would account for a maximum of 2.4 percent of China’s coal consumption.
  4. Coal used by China accounts for 22 percent of worldwide CO2 emissions according to the EIA.
  5. Thus, Washington’s coal exports would account for a maximum of 0.54 percent of worldwide emissions and a commensurate amount of ocean acidification.
  6. According to the IPCC, under the second highest emissions scenario, known as RCP 6.0, the oceans will see pH fall (i.e. become more acidic) by 0.2 by the year 2100.
  7. This means the maximum amount the coal from Washington would impact Puget Sound would be to lower pH (i.e. increase acidity) by 0.000836.
  8. Since the pH scale is logarithmic, the change in pH over the next 100 years due to the carbon from coal exported from Washington is 0.083 percent of what can occur daily, naturally, in Willapa Bay.

Put simply, the Governor claims that a change in the pH of Puget Sound or the coast of Washington by 0.083 percent over 100 years as compared to what occurs naturally in one day, is “significant” and “unparalleled.”

One final note. All of this assumes China will not find a replacement for the 2.4 percent of their coal consumption that would come from Washington’s export terminals. That is clearly false. It is likely that China will have no difficulty finding a replacement for most or all of that tiny amount of coal, meaning the net impact of stopping coal exports from Washington’s on ocean acidification would be literally zero.

Our consistent position has been that every energy source should pay for the impacts it causes and coal emits more carbon than any other energy source. Our position is also that Washington should focus on policies that yield the greatest environmental benefit. Governor Inslee’s plan to stop the export terminals based on the potential impact of exported coal on ocean acidification clearly fails the second test and is not supported by the science.

[Reprinted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog; image: iStockphoto.com]

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