A bad category to be No. 1: Washington has highest gas prices in U.S.

Note: The following e-newsletter was sent to Sen. Padden’s subscribers June 26, 2023. To subscribe to Sen. Padden’s newsletter, click here.

A bad category to be No. 1: Washington has highest gas prices in U.S.

Dear friends and neighbors,

People normally associate June 21 with the first day of summer. However, the summer solstice this year may be remembered by Washington drivers for something far less sunny.

On this date, Washington claimed the title of “highest gas prices in the United States.” For years, California held this dubious honor until our state supplanted our neighbors to the south.

Gas prices in Washington climbed to $4.91 a gallon during the week of June 21, topping California’s $4.86 price.  A couple of longtime factors as to why Washington gas prices are expensive include our traditionally high state gasoline tax and Washington’s location in the northwest corner of the contiguous United States, which means it costs more to deliver fuel here than to other states.

But the most significant reason for Washington’s recent climb to No. 1 for gas prices nationally is our state’s costly and unpopular cap-and-trade program. This program, created when the Legislature passed the Climate Commitment Act in 2021 (I voted against the CCA legislation because I knew it would significantly increase fuel prices while not helping reduce carbon emissions), went into full effect Jan. 1. That week a gallon of regular unleaded in our state cost $3.84. In the six months since, Washington drivers have seen gas prices skyrocket, rising by over a dollar. Diesel prices have remained fairly constant this year, as they were about $4.95 a gallon in early January, just as they were in late June.

What will be especially frustrating news for Washington drivers is that fuel prices elsewhere in America have actually fallen over the past year. According to a June 15 article on the AAA website, the national average for a gallon of gas was $3.58, or $1.43 less than a year ago. The price for regular unleaded in Washington a year ago was $5.543.

While it is good that Washington drivers no longer are paying last year’s stratospheric gas prices, there is reason to worry those historically high fuel prices will return before long, thanks to the program some are instead calling “cap-and-tax.”

At the core of cap-and-trade is the idea that carbon emissions should be “allowed” for a price, with allowances sold by the state as if they represent a license to pollute. In late May, the state Department of Ecology held its second carbon allowance auction of the year, which likely will result in even higher fuel prices for drivers in Washington just as the summer driving season is about to start.

The release of the results from DOE’s May auction showed that the price for a Washington carbon allowance was $56.01, up from $48.50 in the initial auction that took place in February. It is estimated the new allowance price will translate to an additional charge of 45 cents a gallon at the pump, slightly more than the estimated 39-cents-per-gallon impact from February’s auction by DOE.

Seattle Times story last week included a section on how the cap-and-trade program has contributed to the sharp increase in fuel prices in Washington this year:

The Oil Price Information Service estimates the state’s new carbon regulations now tally a fee of about 50 cents per gallon of gasoline — up from 37 cents per gallon in the first quarter of the year.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers invited Severin Borenstein, University of California Berkeley professor of business administration and public policy, to help explain what factors contribute to fuel prices. In an interview with The Seattle Times, he said it is beyond controversy that Washington’s carbon-pricing program contributed to the jump in prices.

In fact, Borenstein said, it is easy to calculate. 

“So let’s say the price of the tradable allowances in Washington is $50,” Borenstein said. “As I recall, it’s pretty close to 50. A gallon of gasoline produces about 1/100 of a metric ton of greenhouse gasses, which makes the math really easy. So $50 per ton, means the price of gasoline goes up about 50 cents per gallon.”

A rough estimate for revenue raised in the May auction is about $480.8 million for “current vintage” allowances and about $76.2 million for “future vintage” allowances. The February auction collected nearly $300 million. Governor Inslee’s expensive cap-and-trade program is taking hundreds of millions of dollars from drivers’ wallets and handing all of that money over to state agencies for programs, all in the name of climate change.

If you have questions about how to participate in state government this year or thoughts to share on anything in this e-newsletter, please give me a call or send me an email.

Thank you, as always, for the honor of serving as your state senator!

Best Regards,

Senator Mike Padden

Attending North Spokane Corridor river crossing groundbreaking ceremony

Speaking at the June 13 groundbreaking ceremony for the NSC river crossing.

Joining others for the traditional shovel photo at the groundbreaking ceremony.

It was an honor to speak at the June 13 groundbreaking ceremony for the North Spokane Corridor river crossing. This project, which will begin in a couple of weeks, will connect the NSC project near Wellesley Avenue with the project near Spokane Community College. The ceremony was held at the construction site between N. Greene Street and N. Ralph Street.

Once the North Spokane Corridor project is completed, which is scheduled by 2030, it will provide a long-needed highway for drivers from northern Spokane County to bypass congestion in Spokane and reach the Spokane Valley area and Interstate 90.

Costly WA Cares program starts July 1

WA Cares, our state’s new long-term care program, will be activated on July 1, despite strong efforts by legislative Republicans to repeal or modify this costly and flawed program.

The program will be funded by a very expensive payroll tax, in which those making $50,100 (the median income in Washington) will have $24 a month (or $288 a year) taken out of their paychecks unless they have already obtained an exemption approval letter by purchasing private, long-term care insurance.

The WA Care program provides a maximum lifetime benefit of only $36,500, payable at a maximum of $100 per day – even though the cost of care currently averages up to more than three times that. This program is not only extremely expensive for workers, it also falls short of providing benefits at the level many people will actually need.

I was one of several Republican legislators who offered bills to stop WA Cares from becoming reality. In 2022, I introduced Senate Bill 5234, which sought to repeal the WA Cares program and its payroll tax. However, Senate Democrats did not allow it to even receive a public hearing in committee.

Meetings and events in June

The new Spokane Valley Library.

During June, I attended several meetings and events, either in our district or on the west side of the Cascades. Below is a summary:

  • An interim meeting of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, in Tacoma on June 14, where we held work sessions on elder abuse, guardianship and informed consent related to hospitals’ discharge of patients, and the unauthorized practice of law.
  • Meeting with Washington State Patrol Captain Neil Weaver and WSP’s legislative liaison Ron Rupka on June 15 to discuss the current number of State Patrol troopers and how the WSP is doing overall right now.
  • Meeting with Major David Horn in Spokane Valley on June 16 to discuss the Army National Guard unit in Spokane.
  • The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Spokane Valley Library on June 17. The new library looks great!
  • A Civil Justice Advisory meeting in Tacoma on June 20. Topics discussed included a review of this year’s legislative session, and updates on several litigation issues, including firearms litigation and a Washington State Bar Association update.
  • A Joint Administrative Rules Review Committee meeting in Olympia on June 21. Among the topics discussed during JARRC’s meeting were reviews of the state administrative rules regarding the required curriculum for driver training schools and the licensing of advanced registered nurse practitioners.
  • Meeting with Washington Traffic Safety Commission Director Shelly Baldwin on June 22 to discuss traffic-safety legislation that failed during this year’s legislative session.
  • Meeting with Senate Transportation Committee coordinator Kelly Simpson in Olympia on June 22 to discuss my proposed $400,000 budget proviso in the state transportation budget that would evaluate the outcomes and effectiveness of oral swab tests to detect alcohol/drug combination DUI violations. The evaluation would have been handled by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, through a pilot program. The proviso was included in the Senate transportation budget this year, but it was removed in the final days of the legislative session before the 2023-25 state transportation budget was approved. This is an important public-safety question, and I plan to continue advocating for this funding.

Updated 4th District government guide still available

My office recently produced and mailed an updated version of a 4th District government guide to many households in our district. If you did not receive a government guide and would like one, simply contact my district office at 509-921-2460. You also may pick up a free copy of the government guide at any of these locations:

Millwood City Hall…………………….9103 E Frederick Ave., Spokane

Argonne Library………………………..4322 N Argonne Road, Spokane

Spokane Valley City Hall……………10210 E Sprague Ave., Spokane Valley

Spokane Valley Library………………12004 E Main Ave., Spokane Valley

Liberty Lake City Hall………………….22710 E Country Vista Drive, Liberty Lake

Liberty Lake Library……………………23123 E Mission Ave., Liberty Lake

Otis Orchards Library…………………22324 E Wellesley Ave., Otis Orchards

Spokane Valley Senior Center…….2426 N Discovery Place, Spokane Valley

Contact us!

If you have a question or concern about state government, please do not hesitate to contact our office. During the interim we are conducting business from our district office in Spokane Valley. We are here to serve you!

Phone: (509) 921-2460

Email address: Mike.Padden@leg.wa.gov

PLEASE NOTE: Any email or documents you provide to this office may be subject to disclosure under RCW 42.56. If you would prefer to communicate by phone, please contact Sen. Padden’s Olympia office at (360) 786-7606.

To request public records from Sen. Padden, please contact Randi Stratton, the designated public records officer for the Secretary of the Senate and Senate members.