Lawmakers representing much of north Clark County are hoping a half-dozen initiatives covering topics from taxes to police pursuits make it to Washington voters during next year’s general election.
At an Oct. 9 “meet-and-greet” event hosted at Luckman Coffee in Woodland, Washington state Sen. John Braun and state Reps. Ed Orcutt and Peter Abbarno talked both policy and politics. While addressing some recent legislation in Olympia, the 20th Legislative District lawmakers spoke about potential votes next year in an event that was part town hall, part political rally.
Among legislation discussed was the Washington Cares Fund, a long-term care program with revenues generated from a payroll tax. Starting July 1, 0.58% of eligible earnings is now deducted from paychecks to fund the program.
All three of the lawmakers had issues with the tax.
“I think that this has been portrayed as being a much better deal to people than what it really is,” Orcutt, R-Kalama, said.
Both Orcutt and Abbarno, R-Centralia, said the $36,500 lifetime benefit wasn’t enough to achieve the goal of long-term care.
“$36,500 is short-term care at best,” Abbarno said, adding that the benefit wouldn’t be usable by Washingtonians moving out of state.
Abbarno noted he introduced legislation that would repeal the Washington Cares Fund. Though the bill had 30 co-sponsors, it never advanced out of committee in the last legislative session, something he expected given the current makeup of the Democratic-majority House.
Though officially a payroll tax, Orcutt said it was effectively an income tax, something ruled unconstitutional in Washington.
The tax is the focus of one of a half-dozen voter initiatives currently gathering signatures that the lawmakers mentioned. If approved, it would allow individuals to opt out of Washington Cares, which Braun, R-Centralia, said would essentially repeal the tax.
The long-term care tax initiative joins five others under the “Let’s Go Washington” campaign.
Though one type of initiative goes straight to the ballot for Washington voters, the initiatives in question are ones that stop at the Washington State Legislature first, provided a 325,000-signature threshold is met.
If the initiatives make it to Olympia, lawmakers can either approve them as-is, approve an amended version or do nothing, Orcutt explained. If the Legislature does nothing, an initiative goes to Washington voters, and if lawmakers approve an amended version, both the original and the amended versions go before voters.
Braun didn’t expect the Legislature to move on the initiative, which would put it in front of voters in November 2024. He believed with a statewide vote, allowing workers to opt out of the long-term care tax had a good chance at passing.
He said the underlying issue of the law should be addressed, but not in the way it’s currently on the books.
“We should all be concerned about how we are going to afford long-term care for ourselves and our family. There’s no question about that. This is just a bad solution,” Braun said.
Alongside the long-term care tax initiative, three others in the Let’s Go Washington campaign deal with taxes. One would repeal “cap and trade” programs, another would repeal the recently enacted capital gains tax, and one would prohibit income taxes at all levels of state government, according to the campaign website.
A fifth initiative in the Let’s Go Washington package would remove certain restrictions on police pursuits. Another would allow parents and guardians to review curriculum and student records, require notifications by schools to parents under certain circumstances and require opt-out opportunities for comprehensive sexual health education, the campaign website states.
Braun said he spoke to Brian Heywood, the primary sponsor for Let’s Go Washington initiatives. Data from the signatures gathered so far pointed to support split 50-50 among Democrats and Republicans, Braun said.
“That’s by design. These are very common-sense initiatives,” Braun said.
The lawmakers touched on other legislation they found unfavorable, from a bill allowing for the delay of reporting unhoused youth who are receiving gender-affirming and reproductive health care, to laws putting a strain on agriculture and law enforcement. The legislators focused on the Democrat majority throughout, urging those in attendance to take action for Republican candidates.
Right now, the GOP delegation in Olympia has a tenuous position preventing the Democrats from having a supermajority. Without such a number, both parties need to work together on any legislation involving bonds, such as the capital budget.
The capital budget is usually more bipartisan due to that supermajority, at least for now. If one Republican seat flipped in the House, the Democrats would have the three-fifths majority needed.
“If we want to start turning this around, we want to start building up our numbers,” Orcutt said.