Republicans cry foul on Democrats’ plan for $200 electricity bill rebates

Republicans cry foul on Democrats’ plan for $200 electricity bill rebates

by Bill Lucia

When politicians dole out cash payments to voters around election time it tends to elicit scrutiny. 

So it wasn’t surprising Tuesday when Republicans in the Legislature went on the attack over how House Democrats want to distribute $200 electricity bill rebates to Washington households.

“I think there will be even-minded people out there that will look at the way the House has done this and think ‘that looks a little bit like electioneering,’” Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, said at a morning press conference.

“Awfully fishy,” is how House Minority Leader Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, described it.

What’s going on?

Like other dramas in Olympia during this year’s session, this one is rooted in those six citizen initiatives pending before the Legislature. In this case, it’s the measure that seeks to overturn the Climate Commitment Act. That’s the law that requires businesses to buy air pollution allowances at state auctions. It generated about $1.8 billion in 2023 and is the central plank in Washington Democrats’ efforts to fight climate change.

To back up a bit, Gov. Jay Inslee pitched the $200 electricity bill credits in the budget he proposed in December, estimating it would cover about 750,000 low- and middle-income households. Inslee and other Democrats continue to take heat from critics who say the Climate Commitment Act is driving up energy costs for consumers.

Senate and House budget proposals released Sunday and Monday both include $150 million to pay for the credits. The state would distribute this money as grants to utilities and then they would pass it on to their ratepayers.

In the Senate bill, this is a straight, one-time $200 credit that utilities have to distribute to customers by Dec. 31.

The main rub for Republicans is that the House spending bill would split the payments. People who qualify would receive half of their credit this year and the other half in 2025  – unless voters put the kibosh on the Climate Commitment Act. If that happens, the second installment is canceled.

Stokesbary, an ardent Climate Commitment Act critic, sounded aghast. To “send hundreds of dollars to people right before and right after an election, where the second payment is based on how they vote in the election,” he said. “That is really suspicious.”

House Majority Leader Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, wasn’t having it.

“We need to be upfront with the voters of the state that if we’re not charging large polluters for the impact that that pollution is having on our state, then that revenue goes away and we’re not going to be able to continue to make the investments,” he said.

“It would not be responsible, it would not be fair to the voters, it would not be fair to the 2025 Legislature to write a check that can’t be cashed,” he added.

Fitzgibbon also said he’d be interested to know how Stokesbary would propose paying for the rebate if the Climate Commitment Act and its revenue were to lapse later this year. “I think it would be magical thinking,” he said, “to pretend that we can make energy bill credits available to Washingtonians if the revenue stream paying for that is gone.”

Republished with permission. Read the original article.

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