Thursday Jolt: Transit Advocates Win on Hazardous Substance Tax

By Afternoon Jolt October 4, 2012

Today's winners: Transit advocates in Olympia.

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled 9-0 today, in an opinion by conservative Justice Jim Johnson, that the hazardous substance tax (the Model Toxics Control Act, a 0.7 percent tax on oil and toxic chemicals passed by voters in 1988 to make oil companies pay for toxics cleanup) is constitutional.

The gas station industry challenged the tax, arguing that it was really a hidden tax on driving. The state's 18th Amendment says you can't use gas tax revenues for anything but roads.[pullquote]"This gives a road map for the legislature to raise revenue for transit improvements."—Ken Lederman, Seattle attorney[/pullquote]

Nope, the court said. The 18th Amendment to the state constitution has a proviso that allows the state to tax oil possession for things other than roads.

It says the legislature can "levy any excise tax on motor vehicle fuel that it [chooses] and spend the funds on any purpose."

And so, Johnson writes in his conclusion: "the common and ordinary meaning of [the 18th Amendment] does not preclude the enactment of an additional tax on motor vehicle fuel for hazardous substances cleanup."

A victory for the hazardous substance tax, certainly. But there may be a bigger win for transit advocates here as well.

"This didn't just preserve [the hazardous substance tax]," environmental attorney Ken Lederman, the Foster Pepper attorney who worked on the case for the Washington Environmental Council, said. "This gives a road map for the legislature to raise revenue for transit improvements that wouldn't run afoul of the 18th Amendment."

Today's second winner: Jay Inslee. 

Inslee, the Democratic candidate for governor, will benefit from a $300,000 infusion from the home health care workers union, Service Employees International Union 775, which announced plans today to do an ad blitz on Inslee's behalf, including 200,000 mailers statewide. Inslee has raised $9.6 million so far, to his Republican opponent Rob McKenna's $9.4 million.
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