Jul 11, 2023 - Politics

Republicans want to make state's long-term care tax optional

Illustration of the Washington State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Republican state lawmakers want to let Washington workers say "no thanks" to the new long-term care tax that started coming out of their paychecks earlier this month.

Driving the news: GOP state senators held a press conference Monday announcing plans to propose legislation to let people opt out of Washington state's new 0.58% payroll tax.

Yes, but: Democrats control the Legislature and haven't shown an interest in making significant changes.

Catch up quick: The tax, which took effect July 1, pays for a state-run long-term care insurance program called WA Cares.

  • Starting in July 2026, the program will provide eligible participants up to $36,500 per person, per lifetime to help pay for nursing care and other services they may need as they age.

Of note: During a one-time window for people to opt out of paying the tax — a window that has since closed for most workers — more than 480,000 Washingtonians chose to not participate.

What they're saying: State Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia) told reporters that the program's benefit isn't great enough to justify the cost to individual workers.

  • "If it's really such a great idea, the people of the state of Washington are capable and smart and can decide for themselves," Braun said Monday.
  • He said he thinks now that people are paying the tax — and that there are initiatives proposed to roll it back at the ballot box — Democratic lawmakers may feel greater pressure to act.

The other side: Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane) told Axios Monday that allowing anyone to opt out of the program at any time would be "tantamount to killing it."

  • That's because social insurance programs like WA Cares "require everyone to participate in order to be successful," he wrote in a text message.

By the numbers: For someone making $50,000 per year, the payroll tax will amount to $290 annually.

  • If you make $150,000, it will cost you $870 per year.

What's next: The Legislature will convene for a new session in January 2024. The Republican opt-out legislation is expected to be introduced before that.

  • Several citizen initiatives to the Legislature also are circulating that aim to change or repeal WA Cares. The measures would need to collect at least 324,516 signatures from eligible voters by Dec. 29 to move forward.

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