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News / Northwest

Tri-Cities lawmaker proposes sending families a gas tax refund check. ‘It’s your money’

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
Published: September 19, 2023, 7:23am

KENNEWICK — A Tri-Cities legislator is proposing relief for Washington drivers paying high prices for gas.

Rep. April Connors, R-Kennewick, plans to introduce a bill when the Legislature starts back up in 2024 that would give registered vehicle owners $100 each or $200 per family.

The proposed measure, called the Carbon Auction Relief Payment program, would send what Connors calls excess revenue collected under Washington state’s new carbon allowance auctions directly to Washington drivers.

Future payments could be larger than $100 per car based on how much surplus revenue the state received.

“High gas prices are draining the budgets of those who can least afford it,” Connors said in a statement. “Many of my constituents have had to cut back on groceries, cancel family trips or make other painful sacrifices. The CAR Payment program is about getting dollars back into their pockets.”

The Climate Commitment Act, passed in 2021 enacted a cap-and-trade program that went into effect at the first of this year, aiming to reduce carbon emissions by putting a price on them. Washington companies that that emit carbon dioxide, including oil companies, must buy allowances at state auctions.

The state’s program has raised about three time more revenue than expected and added about 50 cents per gallon of gas, according to Connors.

Her proposed legislation does not directly affect the CCA. Emission caps would remain in place and carbon credit auctions would not change.

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Instead, should the bill pass, registered vehicle owners would receive an initial payment in July and then an annual check when they renew their vehicle tabs.

“It’s your money. It’s just not right that agencies and policymakers spend that money,” said Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, ranking member on the House Environment and Energy Committee. “This money needs to go back to the people who earned it.”

House Republicans estimate that the new cap and trade program costs the average Washington family about $500 per year.

For part of this summer Washington state had the highest average price for regular gasoline in the nation.

The current average price for a gallon of gasoline in the United States is $3.88, and the price in Washington state is $5.05, according to AAA. The only other state charging more than $5 a gallon for regular is California, where gas now averages $5.69.

Washington House Republicans say that according to the state’s 2023-25 operating budget, more than $200 million of the CCA money will be used for projects such as clean energy siting and permitting, local government planning, energy assistance and funding for community and tribal participation support.

The 2023-25 transportation budget includes $970 million in CCA revenues.

The state’s capital budget for the same years includes $472 million for projects such as solar, hydrogen and geothermal heating.

As gas prices soared over the summer, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s office posted a blog criticizing “Big Oil” for “record-breaking, excessive profits.”

“We should not yield an inch to these rapacious oil and gas companies that are now using (the Climate Commitment Act) as an excuse,” Inslee said, as he defended the urgency of capping carbon pollution and reinvesting in things like heat pumps and electric buses.

“Instead we should hold them accountable for their outrageous pricing,” Inslee said. “We’re not against profits but we’re against price gouging.”

Prices also were high in July due at least partly to pipeline maintenance issues, his office said.