Schoesler: Democrat tax increase will hurt rural Washington, key state industry

Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler blasted the Senate’s approval tonight of a bill that would raise fuel costs through a higher tax on one of the state’s leading industries and be particularly hard on rural Washington.

Substitute Senate Bill 5993 was passed virtually along party lines, 27-22. It now goes to the House for consideration.

During his floor speech opposing the bill, Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said he was voting against a war on rural Washington, higher taxes and oil refineries, an industry that provides family-wage jobs to many workers.

“This increase in the hazardous-substance tax is just the first of several massive tax increases planned by the Senate majority, even though the proponents say it’s ‘only’ $133 million in new taxes. Only $133 million,” said Schoesler. “It’s a continuation of the war on rural Washington. These refineries are primarily located in rural areas, with salaries that nothing else in those areas will match. The people who use heating oil don’t live in hip urban neighborhoods. They tend to live in small towns that you and many others have never heard of. They drive their cars long distances. They will be punished. Agriculture will be punished. This is part of a war on rural Washington that needs to stop.”    

Schoesler said the bill would pull $475 million out of the state economy over the next two years, with little of this additional money going to toxic cleanups.

“It will hurt high-wage, blue-collar jobs in the oil industry, which in turn will have a ripple effect on local economies,” said Schoesler. “This proposal will result in higher fuel prices, which will especially hurt commuters and those who have to drive long distances. It will be like another gas tax on drivers without any benefit to roads. And it basically will allow the hazardous-substance tax to be indexed for inflation by growing upward. It’s just another way to squeeze more tax money out of Washingtonians under the guise of trying to clean up toxic substances.”       

Of the $475 million in tax revenue on petroleum products that would be generated under SSB 5993 for the 2019-21 biennium, only $106 million – or 25 percent – would go to the state capital budget for toxic cleanup. Meanwhile, $255 million would go to the state operating budget.  Of the revenue collected from the tax on petroleum products, only 15 percent would be devoted to stormwater-cleanup programs.   

“In a session full of terrible bills passed by the Democratic majority in the Senate, this one is among the worst,” said Schoesler. “This bill offers a false promise. It is less about actually helping with toxic cleanups and more about pumping more money into the state’s operating and transportation budgets.  It’s a step backward for actually cleaning up toxic sites in Washington.”

Republicans introduced several amendments to soften the proposal’s negative impacts, but majority Democrats defeated all of them. One amendment, offered by 42nd District Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, would have removed the annual inflationary growth factor from the tax rate.

Another amendment, sponsored by 13th District Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, sought to preserve an exemption for crop protection products, many of which are stored in Franklin County. Schoesler was especially disappointed by its defeat. “By rejecting that amendment, the majority eliminated a very useful and friendly exemption that served Franklin County and producers with safe crop production products across the state.”  

The state model toxics control program is administered by the state Department of Ecology to ensure that most sites where hazardous substances were released are cleaned up. MCTA is funded by the hazardous-substance tax. About 95 percent of the revenue comes from the HST on petroleum products.