Editor’s Note: Today and throughout this weekend, NPI is running a special series here on the Cascadia Advocate called Progressive Ideas We Need, highlighting proposals that would raise quality of life in our region and in the United States as a whole. Each post is contributed by an NPI staff, board, or advisory council member.
It is a brand new year for us in the Pacific Northwest, with new challenges, a new president, and a new political landscape.
The rather unorthodox politics of the past twelve months has got us chattering away — because of how much we know we had ‘yet to do’ a year ago, and now it feels like the momentum is negative. In an ironic twist on our chosen moniker, a pivot to proactive, progressive policy is impeded by frustratingly stubborn conversations about issues which should be settled.
The response so far to the 2012 McCleary decision of the Washington State Supreme Court has all the hallmarks of grandstanding and political gamesmanship that run directly counter to the Washingtonian political ethos.
As readers know, the Court has held that the state has not been meeting its paramount duty due to having failed to properly funding our public schools. The glacial pace of progress is weighing heavily on our public consciousness.
It was simple enough for our Framers to see the value and necessity of a well educated citizenry, and yet, one hundred and twenty-eight years later, we’re struggling to actually invest in our schools, because we’re chained to a regressive, upside-down, unsustainable tax code the Legislature won’t fix.
Similarly, the pushback on a hard switch to renewable energy sources has prevented us from acting more swiftly to address the damage to our climate.
In a sense it feels like we’re still living in the mid 1990s, when right wing Republicans were still dismissing climate science and when it was commonly known as global warming. Head in the sand reactionaries have been given legitimacy they don’t deserve, and provided with a platform for spreading their misinformation.
Recent plans to address the accelerating problem have gone nowhere, including Governor Inslee’s Pollution Accountability Act of 2015, and CarbonWA’s poorly thought out Initiative 732, defeated by voters last year.
Governor Inslee, however, has returned undeterred with a new budget proposal aimed at taxing the largest carbon polluters, and using that money to invest more in resources and staffing for schools. Along with a proposed capital gains tax on the wealthy, this plan would provide schools with counselors and nurses, and the training to go along with supporting staff.
An outline of the budget explains:
The carbon tax would take effect in fiscal year 2018, generating about $1.9 billion in the next biennium. About half the revenue generated by the carbon tax would be directed to the state’s education needs.
The rest would be reinvested in clean energy and transportation projects to lower consumer fuel bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Revenue will also support major projects to build water infrastructure and improve forest health.
Some funds will offset taxes to businesses and low-income households especially vulnerable to increased energy costs.
To no one’s surprise, this idea has received a cool reception from Senate Republicans, who take their cues from disgraced initiative promoter Tim Eyman.
But Inslee’s willingness to put a pollution tax on the table deserves to be celebrated. This is a well thought-out proposal that deserves to be voted on in the Legislature. And if Senate Republicans won’t allow a vote, then we must give the people of Washington an opportunity to say yes at the ballot.
Progressives take note: we will succeed if and when we are able to compellingly offer a value-based framework for policy, one that is consistent, applicable, and considerate of the enormity of the task at hand.
Education and environmental protection are the keys to a prosperous future here in the Northwest — let’s act to ensure the next generation inherits a region that is greener and more prosperous than the one we inherited. Let’s enact a pollution tax to fund a just transition to the clean energy future we need.