By BRIAN SLODYSKO
OLYMPIA, WA-- Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, want car owners to warm to the inconvenient truth of cutting vehicle emissions.
And they're aiming for a place all drivers will feel it -- the pocket.
Senate Bill 6923 would impose a vehicle excise tax on all passenger vehicles based on EPA ratings of a cars' fuel efficiency. For example, the owner of a hybrid car such as, say, a Toyota Prius, would pay $60 in annual taxes, whereas the owner of a Hummer H3 would pay $180 a year.
"The (governor's) climate advisory team said that the biggest global warming problem in this state is actually from transportation," Murray said. "We have fairly clean industry, so we have to be careful that we don't get into the situation where we're punishing a few industries when the problem is actually the number of automobiles. This legislation finally takes into account global warming to the responsibility of owning a vehicle."
The tax would replace slumping revenue collected through the state's gas tax. Rising fuel costs have lured drivers from their cars while the increased popularity of gas-efficient vehicles has cut back on the number of trips drivers make to the pumps.
The money raised would be split between the state Department of Transportation and local governments, with 75 percent of the tax going to cities and counties and 25 percent going to the DOT for transportation projects, including "green" alternatives.
Commercial drivers would be exempt from the legislation.
It is unclear if the bill will be moved forward because it was proposed late in the session. The Legislature's cutoff date for new bills is Friday.
According to Craig Engelking, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, even if the bill does not move forward, it will further green interests by initiating dialogue among legislators.
Hours after the bill was proposed, anti-tax advocate Tim Eyman was making the rounds, condemning Murray's efforts.
"How much is this going to cost taxpayers over the next 10 years?" Eyman asked. "Insanity seems to be in vogue in Olympia; this is just one more example of it."
If approved, the bill could hit lower-income drivers who cannot afford fuel-efficient cars hardest, with, by Nickels' estimate, a $113 average annual fee.
"Our state's tax system is enormously skewed so that lowest wage earners pay about 17 percent of their income in state and local taxes. Any proposal that treats all taxpayers equally just adds to that regressivity," said Christy Margelli, executive director of the Washington Tax Fairness Coalition.
Nickels said, in this case, there has to be more stick than carrot.
"When somebody invests the money in something that harms the rest of us in terms of putting the carbon into the atmosphere and exacerbating global warming, that behavior should carry a cost," Nickels said.
Murray proposed his bill as Gov. Chris Gregoire's Climate Advisory Team released its final recommendations for cutting greenhouse gases, including:
Charging road tolls, increasing parking costs and basing auto insurance rates on miles driven.
Requiring that vehicle fuel sold in the state releases lower levels of carbon dioxide.
Making railroad transportation more efficient.
P-I reporter Brian Slodysko can be reached at 360-943-8311 or email@example.com.