Voters approved a law known as the Model Toxics Control Act or MTCA in 1988, but it took until today for a state Supreme Court ruling on whether it was constitutional.
The court decided the law’s tax on hazardous substances — including petroleum products — can be used on environmental cleanup projects as intended.
The court rejected an argument by gas-station owners and others that it was essentially a gas tax, which must be spent for highway purposes.
Not only was the ruling unanimous, but it was written by Justice Jim Johnson, who might be the court’s most conservative member.
Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Department of Ecology issued a statement cheering the ruling. Director Ted Sturdevant called it “a law that Washington voters passed more than two decades ago to make sure that we and future generations have a permanent funding source to clean up and prevent toxic pollution.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Rob McKenna defended the law. That’s his job, of course, but he told me last week he also agrees with the tax as a policy matter.
“The MTCA tax makes sense if it’s being used to clean up the environment. It shouldn’t be used to balance the state budget,” he said. The Legislature has diverted money from the fund to shore up the state general fund.
Tim Hamilton, whose Automotive United Trades Organization sued the state, said the ruling drives a hole through the state constitutional restrictions on gas-tax money. “It gives them an avenue of taxing the motorist at the pump and then diverting the money and going anywhere they want with it,” he said.
UPDATED 9:35 a.m. to fix link and add statement from Ecology.