Gov. Jay Inslee hasn’t indicated publicly whether or not he will seek an unprecedented fourth term. But on the issue he hopes will be his legacy, he may have sidestepped a negative public reaction that might have tempted one of the three Democrats waiting in the wings to decide it’s time to help him step aside.
It’s fair for Inslee to say he is a national leader on the issues of climate change and clean energy since he gained national visibility in what turned out to be a quick-exit run for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 with climate as his sole issue.
But his website goes farther in what some may view as a bit of a stretch by saying he is “known as the greenest governor in the country.”
As an amusing note, Inslee actually owes a bit of thanks to the oil-producing countries of whose product he’s not a fan. The reason is that the latest dramatic decline in the last half of 2022 in the price per barrel of oil from $122 in June to $80 in January took the sting out of a January doubling of the state tax on the per-gallon price of gasoline.
The “sting” was a boost of 49.4 cents per gallon in the price of gasoline at the pump, and 59 cents on the cost per gallon of diesel fuel. That represented a doubling of the tax rate of 49.4 to 50.4 and it took more than a century to reach a tax first implemented in 2021.
But given that decline in price per gallon, which stood at $5.55 as the average in this state in June, likely exceeded the 49 cents for gasoline and 59 cents for diesel price additions in January, there was nothing for voters to react to. Certainly not how they likely might have if the new taxes had pushed the per-gallon gas cost in this state to over $6 per gallon.
Gov. Jay Inslee's carbon tax could be an issue if he decides to seek a fourth term
What went into effect on January 1 was a result of the Climate Commitment Act passed by the Legislature in 2021 and the related cap-and-trade program to cut carbon emissions.
At its core, the program is designed to cap, or limit, greenhouse gas emissions to 25,000 metric tons and allows those industries or companies that exceed that amount to purchase “emission allowances” to offset 6 percent of carbon emissions.
The Act directed the Department of Ecology to develop and implement a “Cap and Invest” program to raise the penalty for exceeding the 25,000 metric ton allowance to $58.21, an amount that, incidentally, is much higher than the estimate used by the legislation.
Thereby hangs the tale of a 49-cent or 59-cent increase at the pump. The global oil price decline allowed the tax to go into effect basically unnoticed rather than being an issue to stir the political pot.
The intent of Inslee’s program is to penalize industries that historically are heavy emitters of greenhouse gas emissions to force them to reduce their emissions to save the planet.
But critics say the reality is that when the oil-producing nations send the price back up, it means the state’s new carbon tax will leave Main Street burdened by yet an additional cost for nearly everything that is delivered. Transportation of any goods will now require what amounts to a gas tax disguised as a carbon tax.
And if an increase from oil producers occurs between now and the 2024 state elections and the reality hits voters that the state tax on gasoline will continue to rise until 2030 with the goal of a total increase per gallon of 80 cents, voter reactions may be interesting.
And lest there be any doubt that those who pay the gas seller's fee will be passing on the tax, despite state officials' suggesting otherwise, the memo from a Kittitas County petroleum dealer should make it clear,
The note to customers of A-1 Petroleum and Propane spelled out the added cost per gallon for each type of fuel and then noted “our neighbors in Oregon and Idaho have seen significantly lower prices at the pump since January 1.”
“If those costs concern you,” the memo concluded, “please reach out to your local and state representatives.”
As to the Democrats waiting in the wings hoping that Inslee ultimately decides that, having just turned 70, it may be time to leave the governor’s office rather than pursue a record fourth term, it’s pretty sure that one of them would replace him.
The reality is that with the next election, it will have been 44 years since a Republican was elected the state’s executive, and none seems to have emerged to challenge in the 2024 election.
So if history holds, it would mean that three-term Attorney General Robert Ferguson, 57, Four-term King County Executive Dow Constantine, 61, or Lt, Gov, Dennis Heck, 70, would replace Inslee.
And many Democratic leaders might offer candidly that they’d like to see one of the three take charge of the state for the rest of this decade, bringing a focus on other issues while continuing Inslee’s climate focus, which is now part of this state’s political culture.
I asked the state’s most respected political pollster, H. Stuart Elway, if Inslee could be successfully challenged in the unlikely event any of the three Democrats would run against him if he does decide to run again. He indicated that would be unlikely
Elway said that while Inslee’s approval rating has long been “underwater,” meaning fewer than 50 percent of voters approve of his performance, “it’s been constant,” meaning he’s done little to irritate voters nor much to make them enthusiastic.
But most tellingly, Elway said that among Democrats, 62 percent would support him if he runs for a fourth term, though at this point they haven’t seen any other candidate.