September 24, 2018
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Questions arise on how I-1631's carbon 'fee' dollars would be spent, who would pay it

The Seattle Times last week asked an important question about Initiative 1631: Who would actually pay the new carbon “fee” if voters approve it this fall? The answer: Families – through higher fuel costs and higher energy bills.

“The carbon fee would take effect in January 2020 starting at $15 per metric ton, which would add about 14 cents to a gallon of gasoline. The fee would increase each year until Washington is on track to meet statewide goals for reducing greenhouse emissions,” the newspaper reports.

The state Office of Financial Management estimates the new fee, if approved by voters, would cost residents $2.3 billion over five years.

A new study on I-1631 by the Washington Policy Center (WPC) concludes: “Taxpayers would see the cost of the initiative primarily at the gas pump, in home heating costs, and on their electricity bills. This translates to between $234 and $305 for the average household in the first year, increasing to $672 and $877 per year after 10 years.”

Then, there are these questions: How will the money will be spent? Who will oversee those expenditures? Will the process be transparent to the public?

As written, I-1631 would create a new, unelected 15-member board to be housed in the governor’s office and would be made up of the special interest groups who wrote the initiative. Despite comments by one lawmaker, who said that the “buck stops with the Legislature,” nowhere in the language of I-1631 does it explicitly require legislative oversight of the billions of dollars raised by the new fee.

Proponents of the initiative told The Seattle Times during a debate on I-1631, which was hosted by the newspaper’s editorial board, that because the revenue is generated by a “fee,” the Legislature could not take the money to spend on programs outside of the explicit purpose of the fee.

“The dollars will go directly toward solving the problem, and won’t be siphoned off for other purposes,” said Mo McBroom, of The Nature Conservancy.

Opponents, like AWB, see another scenario.

“It’s a misleading, ineffective and costly measure,” said Dana Bieber, a spokeswoman for No on 1631 Coalition, during the debate. “This very powerful 15-member panel will be responsible for doling out billions upon billions of dollars … I think when we are talking about the greatest challenge of our time — and that’s climate change — I don’t think we should leave it in the hands of 15 unelected people.”

AWB opposed I-1631 in part because of the lack of transparency in where the money would be spent and what, if any, accountability the new, unelected board would have in proving a direct reduction in carbon emissions due to the board’s expenditures. And, it would hit hard-working Washingtonians and employers the hardest through higher fuel and energy costs.

“Washington businesses are already among the greenest in the world and they continue to look for new ways to reduce their carbon footprint,” said AWB President Kris Johnson. “This initiative will do little to reduce global carbon emissions while placing Washington employers, especially small businesses, at a competitive disadvantage with other states and regions that won’t have to pay the higher energy costs.”

The "NO on 1631 Coalition" has gone online with information about the measure. Its website is, and the coalition is also active on Facebook and Twitter.

WPC’s full citizen guide to I-1631 is available online.

For more information on I-1631, contact AWB Vice President, Government Affairs Gary Chandler at 360.943.1600.

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