February 1, 2018

Governor's top policy advisers discuss carbon tax, rural economy at Lobby Lunch (w/video)

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Top advisers to Gov. Jay Inslee address a full house at the first AWB Lobby Lunch of the 2018 legislative session on Feb. 1, 2018, in AWB's office in Olympia. From left: Scott Merriman, Legislative Liaison, Legal and Legislative Affairs; Lauren McCloy, Senior Policy Advisor for Energy; Charles Knutson, Senior Policy Advisor on Transportation and Economic Development. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)
Despite the short, 60-day legislative session, the governor has some lofty policy goals.

Three of his top staff, Charles Knutson, senior policy adviser on transportation and economic development; Lauren McCloy, senior policy adviser on energy; and, Scott Merriman, legislative liaison at the Office of Financial Management (OFM), joined AWB's first 2018 Lobby Lunch to share those goals with AWB members and staff.

Knutson kicked off the discussion with a call to business leaders in the room to partner with the governor. "Those partnerships are what makes things work," he said.

The economy is "red hot," he said, and the state's unemployment rate is the "lowest since the 1970s." But, he said, there are many areas across the state that are still struggling.

The governor's agenda to grow the economy statewide has three pillars, Knutson said:

  • Talent: Doing better in the state's education system, focusing on workforce training that is tied to industry needs, and ensuring the state remains open to the best and brightest talent from around the world.
  • Trade and Infrastructure: Fostering strong trading partners for Washington products, addressing transportation needs and lessening traffic, and building out broadband connectivity.
  • Innovation: Cultivating an environment that opens doors to new technology and job sectors.

Another top agenda item, McCloy explained, is the passage of the governor's proposed carbon tax this session, which she said is still being worked on in the Legislature.

Top advisors to Gov. Jay Inslee listen to a question from an AWB members during the first AWB Lobby Lunch of the 2018 legislative session on Feb. 1, 2018, in AWB's office in Olympia. From left: Scott Merriman, Legislative Liaison, Legal and Legislative Affairs; Charles Knutson, Senior Policy Advisor on Transportation and Economic Development; and Lauren McCloy, Senior Policy Advisor for Energy.
The core of the bill, she said, aims at providing jobs in clean energy sectors and transitioning workers displaced by the carbon tax's impact on existing industries into new jobs. That requires training and other skill-building efforts, and attracting the next generation of clean energy workforce.

"Beyond that," McCloy said, "it's a tax bill."

Money from the new tax would pay for a host of projects, including infrastructure for natural resources, such as water and culverts; a new Clean Energy Fund that would allow energy companies to reinvest their carbon tax into clean energy technology, like smart meters; and research and development of clean energy technology.

Notwithstanding the carbon tax debate and many different bills on the issue, Merriman said, the pace in the Legislature is "unbelievable."

He said that, to date, 3,300 fiscal notes have been requested from OFM for bills.

That is due in large part to the resolution of the Hirst water rights issue and passage of the capital budget, Merriman said. Un-sticking those issues, he said, has allowed items to move in the Legislature.

Merriman then continued to run down the governor's full agenda: Access to democracy (same-day voter registration and the Voting Rights Act); addressing the opioid crisis (more money for treatment and crisis training for law enforcement); enacting a carbon tax; gun legislation (banning "bump stocks," proper storage requirements and stricter background checks); ending the death penalty; and, building out broadband to reach rural Washington.

"Rural broadband isn't just about access to business and jobs," Knutson said. "Today, it's also about access to education and health care."

Expanding broadband across the state is also a top issue for AWB.

Finishing up the McCleary education funding, which would cost about $1 billion this year, is also on the table for the governor.

Merriman explained the governor's plan would take a one-time dip of $950 million out of the state's reserves - not the protected rainy-day fund - this year for education and pay it back with money from the carbon tax, assuming the tax passes the Legislature.

One important issue Merriman said may not be on the radar for the group is the upcoming U.S. Census.

"The census not only helps drive federal dollars to the state, so we need to get the count right," Merriman explained. "Some also believe that the state's population growth could add an 11th congressional district to the state."

With nearly half of the 2018 legislative session already behind lawmakers, achieving all of the governor's policy objectives is a high bar for 147 elected lawmakers and the president of the Senate to reach.

Next week's Lobby Lunch will feature members of the House and Senate Republican leadership.

2018 Lobby Lunch Series: February 1st - Office of the Governor and Office of Financial Management from Association of WA Business on Vimeo.