Taxing Carbon To Pay For Transportation Infrastructure

Jan 4, 2013

Keeping up with transportation infrastructure isn’t cheap. The Washington State Transportation Commission estimates that in the next 20 years around $200 billion needs to be put towards the maintenance of roads, ferries and more.

But how to pay for that? Some are putting forward the idea of a tax on carbon emissions.

“Tax” is still a dirty word. But in the face of some big-ticket infrastructure needs, it might be a necessary word. Just ask Yoram Bauman. He’s an environmental economist with Sightline Institute.

“Money’s not going to fall from the sky, so we need to get it from somewhere. So why not deal with the climate problem at the same time that we deal with the transportation problem," Bauman says.

British Columbia put a tax on carbon back in 2008. Businesses now pay $30 per ton of CO2 that they emit. And some of those costs are passed down to citizens, who pay about 30 cents more per gallon at the pump.

The tax brings in a billion dollars a year for BC. As a result, the province has been able to lower personal and corporate income tax rates and provide rebates to low income households.

Bauman says if a similar tax were applied in Washington the state could collect $2.3 billion a year.

But instead of giving all the money back to citizens, Bauman and others propose that some of the carbon tax money go towards transportation infrastructure.

It’s an idea that’s gaining traction. State Senator Kevin Ranker plans to introduce carbon tax legislation in the coming days.

"There is a critical need for us, in Washington state, to address the carbon problem and address it in a way that’s not only a win win here in Washington but could also be a model for the country," Ranker says.

Still, Ranker knows not everyone is going to embrace this idea. He knows how difficult it is to push new taxes in this state.

The business community has traditionally been resistant to a carbon tax because of the added cost.

Don Brunell is the head of the Association for Washington Businesses. He acknowledges that the state needs funding for transportation and says that could come from a variety of places, like tolls or other fees. But he doesn’t dismiss the possibility of taxing carbon.

“I think you have to look at the whole spectrum and if carbon tax is part of that spectrum you have to look at it," Brunell says.

There is talk of carbon tax legislation being introduced in Oregon in the upcoming term as well.

Copyright 2013 KUOW