Braun: Initiative critic wants ‘constructive measures’ — and Republicans have them


Knowing what the Legislature did and didn’t do this year with the six initiatives submitted to it by the people of Washington, I couldn’t help noticing what a big-city newspaper columnist recently wrote under the headline “The cost of repealing state laws on climate, health, and capital gains.”

Right out of the gate, the columnist showed his true colors by falsely claiming Republicans “pushed through three key initiatives that go to the voters in November.”

This refers to the three initiatives legislators were not allowed to vote on during our just-concluded session in Olympia: Initiative 2117, to repeal the cap-and-tax law officially known as the “Climate Commitment Act;” Initiative 2124, which would allow Washington workers to opt out of the mandatory payroll tax that funds the state-run WA Cares long-term care program; and Initiative 2109, to repeal the state tax on income from capital gains.

The November part is accurate, but Republicans didn’t do the pushing. The people of Washington made the initiatives happen, using the power granted to them under our state constitution.

More than 823,000 Washington voters signed a petition in support of at least one of the six measures. To suggest they are all Republicans only underscores the idea that many in the news media don’t even try to hide their biases.

There’s also an elitist tone in how the columnist goes out of his way to mention the King County businessman who helped get petitions in front of voters had once been an Arizona resident. Being from another state has nothing to do with his or anyone else’s right to engage in the direct democracy that is enabled by Washington’s constitution.

It would have been more appropriate to instead mention how Initiative 2113, Initiative 2111 and Initiative 2081 were passed during the final week of this year’s session.

Those also qualify as “key initiatives” because they will make our state safer, more affordable and better for our children. However, they were approved with solid bipartisan votes in the Senate and House, and maybe that is why there was no mention — the support from Democrats makes it more difficult to criticize them as Republican ideas.

The columnist says he can’t find that backers of the initiatives have any “constructive measures” to offer. While I won’t speak for those who signed the petitions, let me highlight some constructive ideas Republicans have either introduced or supported, starting with carbon reduction.

The cap-and-tax law’s effect on the budgets of Washington families and employers has become all too apparent since it took full effect in 2023. Just compare the cost of gasoline and natural gas here to Oregon and Idaho, and where our gas prices rank at a national level.

Cap-and-tax also is the driver of the Democrats’ current move, through House Bill 1589, to require Washington households to replace natural-gas appliances with electric versions.

Republicans believe there are constructive and common-sense ways to reduce carbon that don’t carry the personal financial implications of the cap-and-tax law.

For instance, the first carbon-reduction policy to ever win a vote in our Legislature would have given utilities more incentive to make carbon-reduction investments in a market-driven way, without driving up energy prices or enriching state government. Republicans moved such a proposal through when we led the Senate in 2015, only to have Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee derail it in the House.

Inslee likes to go on about the smoke from wildfires, without mentioning how those fires are often in British Columbia or Oregon. He also fails to credit Senate Republicans for originating Washington’s long-term forest-health program, which is about reducing the fuel load that enables massive wildfires. This won’t happen overnight, but it’s a simple and sensible approach that won’t crush families and employers financially.

Another simple approach: Plant trees and other carbon-sequestering vegetation in highway rights-of-way. We are The Evergreen State, after all. Of course, those rights-of-way would have to remain free of encampments so the trees have a chance of reaching maturity. We can’t count on Inslee’s administration to handle that, so it’s more a job for the next governor.

Washington is home to a lot of smart, innovative people. Legislators recognized that in 2023 when we passed bipartisan legislation to promote the in-state development of a sustainable aviation fuels industry. Seeing how that law offers a lower business-tax rate as an incentive, here’s another thought: While our Legislature can’t change U.S. trade policy to block the cheap products imported from the People’s Republic of China, it can and should stop making it more expensive to build things here in our state, so our manufacturers have a better chance to compete.

Considering the International Energy Agency’s estimates of 2023 carbon dioxide emissions show China produced close to three times the emissions of the U.S., and manufacturing in Washington can be done at a far-lower carbon intensity than in many places in the world, policies that encourage manufacturing here make sense all the way around — they mean good-paying jobs that are also carbon-conscious.

One of Inslee’s many failings as governor was his veto of legislation passed in 2017 to extend tax fairness to Washington manufacturers. Perhaps the way to finally get Democrats on board with regulatory reform and a fairer manufacturing tax rate is to promote those ideas as strategies for reducing carbon.

Republicans have more constructive ideas, and regardless of what voters decide about the initiatives in November, we will continue to offer them. The Legislature needs to do better.

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.