PORT ANGELES — Clallam County commissioner candidates Randy Johnson and Ron Richards gave differing views on carbon tax Initiative 732 at an election forum Tuesday.
The statewide measure on the Nov. 8 general election ballot would tax fossil-fuel usage and fossil-fuel electricity generation, and would cut the sales tax by 1 percent.
Richards — a Democrat, fisherman and former county commissioner — and Johnson — an executive at timber company Green Crow Corp. who filed as an independent — are running for the Port Angeles-area District 2 commissioner position.
The position is being vacated by Democrat Mike Chapman in a general election race that will include only District 2 voters, a third of the county’s population.
Johnson, 73, and Richards, 71, spoke to about 50 participants at a breakfast meeting-forum sponsored by the Port Angeles Business Association at Joshua’s restaurant in Port Angeles.
A carbon tax “is quite essential for our future,” Richards said. “It’s beyond me why we would not embrace that in Washington state.”
Johnson, wary over I-732, invoked University of Washington atmospheric sciences professor Cliff Mass, who spoke on climate change Aug. 17 at the Port Angeles Library.
Mass said that whatever is done in the United States might not necessarily by done by other countries, adding that all nations need to cut emissions for the world to experience an overall benefit.
“Whatever we do, we need to remember India and China,” Johnson said, citing the countries’ growing economies.
He said was fearful about people living in rural areas paying higher gas prices.
Johnson said a carbon tax could have a negative impact on industries such as Nippon Paper Industries USA, the Port Angeles paper maker, which employed 160 as of June 2015.
Richards and Johnson were not specific on cuts they would make in a 2017 budget that faces challenges.
Any spending plan that would be approved this year, before a new commissioner takes office, would have a $700,000 deficit if revenue and spending stay at 2016 current levels.
In two lighter moments Tuesday morning, each candidate told Sheriff Bill Benedict, who asked the question, that the sheriff’s office budget would not be cut.
Richards suggested the entire county courthouse might be spared.
“I’m really pretty encouraged about growing economy,” he said, adding the county may not need to be concerned about cutting services.
As Richards did, Johnson said he would get advice from county departments before making cuts.
“I would not like to raise taxes,” Johnson added.
“That is not where I [would] go unless there is an absolute need.
“There may be, sometime, but I don’t see it right now.”
Richards also alleged that Johnson, chairman of Port Angeles-based Green Crow, joined with others connected with the company — Forks City Attorney and company board member Rod Fleck and retired company employee Harry Bell — to make timber arrearage and the county takeover of timber trustlands a campaign issue.
“It looks to me like the issue should have waited for the trust lands advisory committee,” Richards said at the forum. “It’s just a political observation about this issue.”
The county Trust Lands Advisory Committee has recommended against the state reconveying management of 92,000 acres of state-managed county trustlands to the county.
The committee also will make a recommendation later this year on working with the state Department of Natural Resources on the issue of arrearage, or timber that was identified by the DNR as timber to be sold but has not been sold.
Richards, who has a law degree, said later that he “is not speculating” on how Green Crow would benefit by pushing the issue of arrearage in the campaign.
“I’m just saying they did bring it up, and I’m wondering why. Maybe they just thought it would be a catchy issue for the campaign.”
Johnson said later he was befuddled by Richards’ comments.
He said there is no such conspiracy.
“It really upsets me. I could argue that if there are higher cutting levels, more timber might drop the price for Green Crow logs.
“To have him say that Green Crow is involved in this conspiracy to do something is beyond me.”
Fleck said “the theory” espoused by Richards has come up in recent months and was brought to his attention by Johnson.
“To hear that I’ve injected it into the campaign, that’s playing very loosely with the facts by someone who is an attorney,” Fleck said.
“It’s been talked about for a year and a half.
“He should know better.”
Bell could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].