In late January, Washington’s state legislature voted to delay its controversial long-term care law and have begun working on two separate bills to revise it.
In 2019, Democrats passed a bill, the WA Cares Act, to fund long-term care for those who’ve paid into the WA Cares Fund for ten years, are current residents of the state, and need assistance in three aspects of living. However, this bill sparked immense controversy due to the payroll tax necessary to pay for it.
The WA Cares Act charges a .58% payroll tax. As a result, many who can never see the benefits still have to pay, including retirees who move away and Oregonians working in Washington. Even seniors who retire before ten years have passed would be ineligible, despite being the law’s intended beneficiaries. In some cases, low wage earners may even be financing those with more wealth than them.
Republicans tried to collect signatures for a ballot initiative to repeal the law, I-436, which would put the decision in the hands of the people. However, before obtaining enough signatures, Jay Inslee declared that his department would not collect the tax in January. According to the I-436 Coalition, Inslee’s announcement “dramatically reduced the flow of signatures and led to confusion as voters believed the issue had been settled.”
Despite Inslee’s delay in collecting the tax, it was still on the books. The tax still would be due in April had Washington’s legislature not voted to delay the law, regardless of what Inslee’s Fortunately for Inslee, in late January, the legislature did just that, pushing the WA Cares Act back to July 2023. Democrats promise that they will take this time to amend the law, while Republicans insist on repealing it.
Despite their promises, the Democrats’ goals have not changed. They want the law; they just don’t want the controversy that came with it. To quell discontent, they have proposed reforms, including a bill that would allow specific individuals to exempt themselves from the tax, but these are not enough to fix what is ultimately a bad tax and a bad law. They are band-aids covering a wound that continues to fester. The real solution is to repeal the WA Cares Act and its accompanying tax completely.
Elizabeth Hovde of the Washington Policy Center said, “The long-term-care law is still poorly written, excluding many Washingtonians intentionally, and we have no idea yet how well the fund will be executed. As a result, it’s insolvent over the long haul, and creating more exemption categories (“fixes”) makes things worse for the fund.”
The I- 436 Coalition has also affirmed their determination to continue the fight, saying, “If the Governor or legislature renege on their promise and reimpose the controversial payroll tax, the I-1436 campaign, now with a firm foundation of hundreds of thousands of supporters, stands ready to strike it down at the ballot box. We will be watching closely.”
The battle may have been delayed, but it is far from over. The payroll tax is unpopular. Washingtonians don’t want it. However, the Democrats in Olympia do. However, the Democrats in Olympia will not give it up willingly. The legislature may put out minor changes to the WA Cares Act, but in the end, its future maybe needs to be decided in the people’s ballot box.