OLYMPIA - A bill to raise $100 million per year for stormwater runoff cleanup and prevention projects by charging a 1 percent fee on the wholesale value of petroleum products, pesticides and fertilizers was heard Thursday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Senate Bill 5604 is one of the top four priorities of environmental advocates this legislative session and closely mirrors a bill that failed in 2010.
“The need is stark: Stormwater runoff is the number one pollution problem for Puget Sound and other water bodies in the state,” Washington Environmental Council lobbyist Clifford Traisman said.
Opponents who helped derail the bill last year, including oil, agriculture and other business interests, are back in the fray this year.
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“This bill is like a bad dream all over again,” said Grant Nelson, government-affairs director for the Association of Washington Businesses.
The bill has the support of local governments strapped for funds to meet federal requirements to better manage their stormwater. Most of the money would go to them.
Labor interests like the bill, dubbed the 2011 Clean Water Jobs Act, because it would put skilled laborers to work.
“We look to any opportunity in this state to get people back to work,” said Rebecca Johnson of the Washington State Labor Council.
But committee members also heard concerns that the measure could cost jobs, too.
“The two biggest costs for farmers are fuel and fertilizers,” said Scott Dahlman, public-policy analyst for the Washington Farm Bureau. “How many jobs will we lose by putting other people back to work?”
The bill is expected to trigger a debate over whether the surcharge on stormwater pollutants is a fee or a tax.
Voters approved Initiative 1053 in November, requiring a two-thirds majority vote by legislators or a majority vote by the public to impose a new tax.
Senators peppered those testifying with questions such as, why would the state Department of Ecology need nearly 50 employees to administer the program by 2015?
Because the proposal isn’t in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget, Ecology isn’t supporting the measure, at least not directly.
The governor’s 2011-13 budget does include $40 million for local government stormwater-control projects, noted Josh Baldi, special assistant to the Ecology director.
A companion bill, House Bill 1735, is slated for a public hearing in the House next week.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org