The news was worse for environmentalists than I thought.

This morning's Fizz reported that even though the hazardous substance tax—environmentalists' top priority this session—isn't in either the Senate or House revenue packages, the House had queued it up for a floor vote as a separate bill.

But unlike the original bill—which raised $225 million annually by tripling 1988's voter-approved tax on hazardous substances like petroleum from .7 to 2 percent—the amended version would raise the tax by .4 percent over four years, raising just $10 million this year and $45 million after four years.

The amended version—Rep. Larry Springer (D-45) led the revisions—also exempts petroleum exports from the tax.

"The bill is still moving," Cliff Traisman, lobbyist for the Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters says, looking for a silver lining, "and we're going to try to put Humpty Dumpty back together again."

The confusing thing for Traisman, he says, is that "we thought we had the most robust revenue proposal this session and it's not in the House or Senate revenue package."

Environmentalists had earmarked nearly 70 percent of the new revenue for the general fund in the first several years of the tax increase (traditionally the tax paid for storm water clean up.) But neither house bit, and in fact, the new, smaller version, simply goes to storm water clean up.

Environmentalists weren't just trying to sweeten the proposal by offering up the money for the general fund (the legislature is facing a historic $2.8 billion shortfall), they had also hoped some of the new money would pay for core environmental programs like water quality monitoring, watershed planning, and air quality services that have been cut.

"We came with a list of cuts that needed to be restored and a way to pay for them," Traisman says. "We're still fighting. This is not a postscript on the session."

Between the Senate and House budgets, there are $15 million in cuts to environmental services—more cuts to environmental programs than were in the Governor's original all-cuts budget. Last year, the general fund budget for natural resource agencies was cut $126.5 million, or 25 percent.

Rep. Dave Upthegrove (D-33), a strong advocate for the original bill, says he's working on compromise proposal to increase the tax to 1.7 percent.
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