Washington State Voters Reject Carbon Tax Initiative

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Initiative 732 failed to pass on the Washington ballot during the November 2016 election, reported Jonathan Marshall of Consortium News. Based on a similar, successful strategy implemented in British Columbia, the $2 billion carbon tax proposal encouraged citizens to seek alternative energy sources and claimed to stimulate Washington’s economy by gradually increasing taxes on every metric ton of CO2 used in fossil fuels to $25 by 2018.

I-732 was rejected by 58% of voters on November 8, 2016. Proposed as a “revenue-neutral” tax, I-732 would have reduced state sales tax by one percent, given $1500 a year to low-income households as a Working Families Rebate, and gradually decreased business and occupation taxes, according to the Yes on 372 website. Aside from climate change skeptics and the fossil fuel industry, Marianne Lavelle of Inside Climate News reported that additional opponents of the initiative included the Washington Environmental Council, Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, among other environmentalist groups.

I-732 was written by economist Yoram Bauman with members of Carbon Washington. According to Agnes Walton of Vice News, Bauman believed that “Republicans [could] support I-732 because it doesn’t raise overall taxes, while Democrats eager to see climate action and tax cuts for working families [could] support it.” Carbon Washington’s greatest endorsement came from Audubon Washington; both groups contributed a combined $3 million towards passage of I-732 since 2015.

Environmentalist critics, however, believed that I-732 would not tax consumers aggressively enough to reduce carbon emissions, despite data showing that the use of carbon emissions dropped by 16.2% between 2008 and 2013 in British Columbia. The Sierra Club did not support the initiative, noting in an official statement, “Members of the Club expressed deep concerns that the initiative does not include all that is needed for an equitable climate policy and just transition to a clean energy economy.”

In Forbes, tax expert Ryan Ellis criticized I-732 for providing too much welfare. “Washington State has no income tax, there is no income tax to credit low income households for paying [and] you can’t give a tax cut to a person who didn’t pay taxes,” said Ellis. Washington’s State Department of Revenue also projected in July 2016 that the tax would not support rebates alone and would create an approximate $800 million loss to the state over the next six years, according to a report in the Seattle Times. In the four months prior to the vote on I-732, companies invested in the fossil fuel industry contributed $1.4 million towards campaigns opposing the initiative, the most prominent contributor being Kaiser Aluminum.

I-732 received minimal coverage on corporate news websites, with most outlets publishing a single op-ed, if anything. There was no buzz because the vote was overshadowed by the 2016 presidential election. CNN published an opinion piece in April 2016, describing the author’s visit to Washington and British Columbia. The Los Angeles Times published an opinion piece in October 2016 that focused on opposition to the proposal. Lastly, the Wall Street Journal recapped the vote in a brief article on November 9, 2016. The Journal’s reporter, Cassandra Sweet, was not afraid to specifically mention the Sierra Club and Kaiser Aluminum’s disdain for I-732, but glossed over potential benefits of the tax.


Jonathan Marshall, “Carbon Tax Reversal in Washington State,” Consortium News, November 12, 2016, https://consortiumnews.com/2016/11/12/carbon-tax-reversal-in-washington-state/.

Marianne Lavelle, “Washington State Voters Reject Nation’s First Carbon Tax,” Inside Climate News, November 9, 2016, https://insideclimatenews.org/news/09112016/washington-state-carbon-tax-i-732-ballot-measure.

Agnes Walton, “Carbon Fight,” VICE News, November 4, 2016, https://news.vice.com/story/why-environmental-groups-are-rejecting-a-carbon-tax-measure-in-washington.

Ryan Ellis, “Taxpayers Should Oppose a Carbon Tax in Washington State,” Forbes, November 4, 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanellis/2016/11/04/taxpayers-should-oppose-a-carbon-tax-in-washington-state/ – 3bc1357ade79.

Matthew Randazzo V, ”I-732: A ‘Green-Washed’ Delay Tactic that Does More Harm than Good,” Seattle Times, October 21, 2016, http://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/i-732-a-greenwashed-delay-tactic-that-does-more-harm-than-good/.

Student Researcher: Elizabeth Serowka (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)