John Braun: Inslee will say anything to protect hidden gas tax


At about this time in 2022, Gov. Jay Inslee boldly claimed our state’s new cap-and-tax law would “have a minimal impact, if any…pennies” when it came to the cost of gasoline in our state.

As Washington families and employers know all too well, that was absolutely false.

The law, officially known as the Climate Commitment Act (CCA), has added up to 50 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas since it took full effect in 2023.

For the past year, this hidden gas tax has kept Washington at or near the top of the list for worst gas prices in the nation.

Now that voters are in a position to repeal the cap-and-tax law by passing Initiative 2117 in November, Inslee is choosing to continue his misinformation campaign.

Nothing in I-2117 guarantees a reduction in gas prices, Inslee declared during a public appearance June 17.

That’s true. But it’s also true that nothing in the cap-and-tax law guaranteed a big jump in gas prices — yet it happened, as Republicans predicted when opposing the Democratic bill that created the law.

Common sense tells us that if gas prices soared after the cap-and-tax law took effect, doing away with the law will bring gas prices down. And Washington voters have common sense, even if the governor thinks otherwise.

The 469,011 signatures that led to I-2117 being on the ballot this fall weren’t looking for a guarantee. They just wanted an opportunity to be heard about a policy that has made living in Washington even less affordable. The cap-and-tax law has created a tremendous hardship for poor and working-class families across our state.

Inslee would later insist that he himself had been misled by staff at the Department of Ecology, the agency that oversees the implementation of the cap-and-tax law, about the true effect of the law on gas prices.

That’s as absurd as his “pennies” claim. The governor holds a degree in economics. He should have been able to understand on his own that when government regulations increase the cost of doing business, the increase typically is passed along to consumers.

Besides, he was warned about this long ago. In 2014, his chief policy advisor presented findings which indicated that the policy could increase gas prices by 38 cents to $1.50 per gallon by 2035.

Late this past year, a former economist with the state Department of Transportation filed a whistleblower complaint with the state auditor’s office.

The former employee said he was pressured by his agency and Inslee’s budget office to lie about the effect of the cap-and-tax law on gas prices. His calculations were in line with what Republicans and other critics predicted: the CCA would increase gas prices by 45 to 50 cents per gallon.

In March, he sued his former employer, claiming whistleblower retaliation, wrongful termination and negligence. The state has asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed. As I write this, that motion is still pending.

Common sense — and geography — also tell us gas prices in Washington, Oregon and Idaho should be similar. They aren’t. Oregon prices have consistently been about a quarter less per gallon, while gas in Idaho has remained more like 80 cents a gallon cheaper.

Washington’s price at the pump has stayed up there with California, the only other state with a cap-and-tax law. It’s not a coincidence.

Inslee’s assertion that oil companies are gouging Washington consumers is another example of how he has tried to suspend reality to sway public opinion. But common sense tells us if this was about profiteering, our neighboring states’ prices would be on par with ours.

The cap-and-tax law will affect more than gasoline. It will increase the price of natural gas. Incredibly, Democrats are also driving to ban natural gas in Washington, exemplified by the passage of House Bill 1589. (Initiative 2066 would repeal the worst parts of that anti-consumer law. If you have an opportunity to sign a petition for that measure, I encourage you to take it.)

At the same time, the cap-and-tax law has also become a huge cash cow for state government. It quickly grabbed more than $2 billion through the Department of Ecology’s periodic auctions of carbon “allowances.”

The latest auction took place earlier this month, and when the final numbers are in, it will likely bring in another $150 million-plus, to go with the $135 million from this year’s first-quarter auction.

Tens of millions of the dollars generated from these auctions are being redistributed by the Inslee administration. On June 17, as the governor was insinuating that the passage of I-2117 would not mean lower gas prices, the state Department of Commerce was publicizing another $73 million worth of grants.

Naturally, the governor won’t admit these grants are intended to turn public opinion against Initiative 2117, but let’s remember — he also is forcing the state agencies under his control to publicize the cap-and-tax law at every opportunity.

While Inslee has dropped the false “pennies” claim, he is still being deceptive. Another one of his current claims is that passing I-2117 would allow “unlimited pollution” in our state.

That’s more nonsense, of course. Our state had plenty of environmental laws before the cap-and-tax scheme came along.

The truth is, Inslee would have said anything to further his climate agenda. Now he’s saying whatever he thinks will protect that agenda. He doesn’t seem to understand his credibility on this issue has disappeared in the past two years.

By passing Initiative 2117 to repeal the cap-and-tax law, Washington voters can save themselves a lot of money while also letting the governor know they’re smarter than he thinks.

While they’re at it, voters can save themselves even more money by approving Initiative 2124. It will repeal the mandatory payroll tax for the state-run long-term care program, which offers very limited benefits and is already in financial trouble to such a point that the tax rate will almost certainly increase.

Finally, passing Initiative 2109 will end the capital-gains income tax. If left in place, this unnecessary tax is likely to expand to hit more Washingtonians and eventually apply to home sales.

As we get closer to November, the people should expect the governor and his allies to say anything to make these initiatives look bad.

When running for election as governor 12 years ago, Inslee pledged to “veto anything that heads the wrong direction and the wrong direction is new taxes in the state of Washington.” He used that pledge to assure nervous voters that he would be an economic moderate.

Once he was in office, following a close election that may have been tipped by his no-taxes promise, Inslee began proposing tax increases.

Republicans thwarted him until 2018, but since then, he has not only signed but also advocated for billions of dollars in taxes.

Clearly, Inslee will say anything to achieve what he wants. A liberal Seattle Times columnist termed the Inslee campaign pledge a ”lie” and said that “he just wasn’t honest with voters about taxes.”

Inslee is especially desperate to keep the cap-and-tax law, as his legacy as governor depends on it. But many Washington families are desperate to make ends meet, and approving I-2117 would be a big move toward reducing their cost of living.

As the supporters of these initiatives say: Vote yes, pay less.


Sen. John Braun of Centralia serves the 20th Legislative District, which spans parts of four counties from Yelm to Vancouver. He became Senate Republican leader in 2020.