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February 8, 2010 at 12:10 PM

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Major polluter tax bills introduced in Olympia

Posted by Jim Brunner

OLYMPIA -- The big environmental bill of the legislative session -- a proposal to triple the tax on oil, pesticides and other chemicals and devote the money to storm water cleanup -- was formally introduced today in the state House and Senate.

House Bill 3181 (and Senate Bill 6851) would triple the "hazardous substances" tax created by a 1988 voter initiative.

That could raise as much as $250 million a year to clean up polluted storm water that has been cited as the leading threat to the health of Puget Sound and other waterways.

But as a carrot for lawmakers, the bills would deposit much of the new tax money in the state general fund over the next few years. That could help plug ongoing budget shortfalls.

In future years, more and more of the cash would be devoted to storm water cleanup.

The bills already have significant support among majority Democrats, with 33 cosponsors in the state House, and 24 in the state Senate.

This is sure to set up a big fight with the oil industry, which pays most of the current tax at its five refineries in Washington. Industry lobbyists have argued the tax will only show up at the gas pump for ordinary consumers.

Last year, the oil industry successfully fended off a similar proposal, which it labeled a "$1 Billion Hidden Gas Tax."

Asked about the tax this morning, Gov. Chris Gregoire sounded a supportive note and rejected the suggestion that the tax would necessarily lead to higher gas prices.

"Let's be honest, a (hazardous substances) tax has been in place since what, the 80s, and there has been no increase since the 80s. And these are oil companies that are making lots of profits so for us to assume that we pay for it at the gas pump -- I don't think is there," Gregoire said at her regular Monday news briefing.

"If we want to get Puget Sound cleaned up, we can't sit there and hope and pray it happens some day. We are going to have to take action to get something done."

Gregoire said she'll decide whether she can support the proposal -- and any other tax plans -- after the state gets its updated revenue and caseload forecasts in the coming week.

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Jim Brunner
Covers politics.

Keith Ervin
Covers the Eastside.

Andrew Garber
Covers politics and state government from Olympia.

Emily Heffter
Covers local government.

Mike Lindblom
Covers transportation.

Kyung Song
Covers politics and regional issues from Washington, D.C.

Lynn Thompson
Covers Seattle City Hall.

Bob Young
Covers King County and urban affairs.