Tacoma 'pirates' win this one; energy bill killed
The House and Senate struck an 11th-hour deal and killed a solar-and-wind energy bill late Sunday, handing the Tacoma pirates a victory and clearing the way for an on-time adjournment of the Legislature.
Lawmakers were poised to adjourn at midnight after a 105-day session.
A coalition of Tacoma and Vancouver lawmakers had held several key budget measures hostage, waiting for legislative leaders to kill a bill the coalition said put too much of a burden on their respective utilities Tacoma Power and Clark County Public Utility District.
They contended Tacoma ratepayers would bear an unfair share of the cost of making the states utilities include more sources of renewable energy.
Late Sunday, House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, announced that the bill in question, Senate Bill 5840, would not come up for a vote. The bill was dead.
Its good to win, said Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, part of the coalition opposed to the measure.
The death of SB 5840 cleared the way for the House to pass bill to authorize borrowing billions of dollars for public school and college construction projects, was well as borrowing an additional $1.9 billion for early construction of the replacement for the Highway 520 bridge across Lake Washington.
The logjam is broken. Everything is moving, Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, chairman of the House Capital Budget Committee.
Coalition members had threatened to withhold their votes until the renewable energy was fixed or killed.
SB 5840, sponsored by Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, would have changed Initiative 937, a ballot measure that was approved voters in 2006. The initiative requires utilities to make power from wind, solar and biomass renewable energy sources a larger share of their overall portfolios over time.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, wanted the bill. So did Gov. Chris Gregoire. So did most of the environmental community, private investor-owned utilities and small public utilities.
On the other side were a group that Marr referred to as the Tacoma pirates Reps. Steve Kirby, Jeannie Darneille, Steve Conway and Dennis Flannigan of Tacoma, Tami Green and Troy Kelley of Lakewood, Tom Campbell of Roy and Jim Moeller, Jim Jacks and Deb Wallace of Vancouver. It also included Sens. Jim Kastama of Puyallup and Craig Pridemore of Vancouver.
Brown made an appeal to the Tacoma-Vancouver delegation early Saturday to stop taking other bills hostage and just vote no on the renewable energy bill.
The modifications . . . in SB 5840 preserve the intent of the initiative to stimulate investments in clean energy, while providing some common sense modifications to moderate the impact on ratepayers, Brown said in an e-mail to majority House and Senate Democrats. I believe that the customers of all utilities in the state will benefit from the bill, without any significant deterioration in our commitment to reducing emissions. The bill will also spur green job creation across a spectrum of renewable technologies, including biomass and solar.
Kirby said it was a nice letter.
The only thing she left out was the money, the cost to Tacoma ratepayers, he said.
Brown had made threats of her own, through an intermediary. She reportedly was going to cut state-funded Pierce County building projects, such at the $10 million Bethel Skills Center, out of the state budget if the coalition continued to hold the energy bill hostage, according to Kirby and Green.
Kirby said Marrs bill would force Tacoma Power to make expensive investments in those technologies which will result in higher rates for their customers. But the bill is less burdensome for smaller utilities and the privately owned utilities get tax breaks to help them out, but are no help to large public utilities.
We just want the same treatment as every else gets, said Campbell said.
We felt we were being ganged up on and we felt we had to take action, Kirby said. All I know is I got my ratepayers to take care of.
Brown denied she was killing Pierce County projects.
The Senate late Sunday approved a bill that would cut the state tax on newspapers by 43 percent, saving them about $2 million over the next two years.
But even though some major parts of the budget passed, some measures had not yet been resolved by 10:45 p.m. Sunday.
They included a bill to change unemployment insurance laws to reduce contribution rates for business by about 5 percent over the next six years.
Another measure, one that would have imposed a $1.50-per-barrel fee on oil sold in Washington failed to pass the Senate.
The Legislature was expected to pass another bill to cut $60 million from state support to local school districts, but allow them to collect more money from local property tax levies.
Lawmakers also were poised to suspend almost $400 million in pay raises for public school employees for the next two years, but promise teachers the state will eventually make up for the lost pay raises.Joseph Turner: 253-597-8436