Wow, the summer certainly did fly by quickly! Kids are back in school, a fall chill has arrived in the air, and we're all still dealing with the effects of COVID-19, and the governor's continual mandates. There's a lot to talk about as we head into the fall season. I wanted to take a few minutes to provide some important updates.
20th District 'drive-in' town hall meeting scheduled for this Monday evening, Sept. 20
My seatmates, Sen. John Braun, Rep. Ed Orcutt and I have been receiving thousands of emails about the governor's mandates, the long-term care payroll tax, worker shortages, new police reform bills, and other issues from citizens across the 20th District. So we've decided to hold a town hall meeting on Monday evening, Sept. 20 at the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis to address these issues and answer your questions. However, this is not your typical town hall meeting. We're holding a drive-in town hall, similar to going to your drive-in theater.
People who attend can drive up to the field outside the museum, listen from inside or outside their vehicles, and ask questions directly. Those who are not able to attend in person can listen and view the meeting via live streaming, and submit questions in advance.
We decided to do this drive-in town hall to avoid bringing lots of people into a crowded room due to COVID. This seems to be the safest alternative and will allow people to be heard clearly and safely.
To participate, come to the Veterans Memorial Museum, 100 S.W. Veterans Way in Chehalis on Monday, Sept. 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Questions may be submitted in advance to John.Braun@leg.wa.gov, with “town hall question” in the subject line.
Because the town hall is outdoors and there's a chance of inclement weather, those who drive up will have the option of remaining inside their vehicles and listening to the town hall via live stream or radio broadcast.
Read more about the drive-in town hall from our press release.
Telling workers 'no jab, no job' is wrong!
Since my last email update, Gov. Inslee has doubled down on further COVID-related mandates. In August, he ordered public school teachers, K-12 staff and administrators, employees working in higher education, health care workers, most child care and early learning, and most state employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment. Those under his orders who are not vaccinated by Oct. 18 could lose their jobs.
This is wrong, as I said in a written statement Aug. 19: “Choosing extreme ultimatums trample liberties and result in less teachers and less health care providers at a time when we need this most.”
I share the concerns of those who have contacted my office regarding the governor's most recent mandates. No one should lose their job and income because they make the personal health-care choice not to get vaccinated. I do not support the governor's vaccine mandates, which are among the strictest in the nation.
While employees will be able to apply for religious or medical exemptions, it is also concerning that a recent investigative report found the governor's office sought to make the religious exemption “as narrow as possible.”
Unfortunately, the governor issued these mandates by himself under his emergency powers — which we repeatedly tried to address and amend during the 2021 session. State lawmakers should have a role in these decisions, but we have been left out. This is one of the reasons why our legislative leaders are calling for a special session.
- Read our 20th District lawmakers' opinion editorial: Governor's vaccination and mask mandates trample Washingtonian's personal rights, should be rescinded.
- If you would like more information on the Republican response to the mandates and an update on COVID-19 resources, please go here.
Long-term care payroll tax: Are you in or out?
I hope you had the opportunity to apply for private long-term care insurance by now if you wanted to opt out of a state-run long-term care program that begins in January. As Austin Jenkins from NW News Network reported in this Aug. 30 story, most, if not all long-term care insurance companies have temporarily halted sales in Washington state. This is because the companies were simply overwhelmed with applications.
For background, in 2019, majority Democrats in the Legislature passed House Bill 1087, creating a first-in-the-nation program, known as the WA Cares Fund, which creates a state-run long-term care program. To fund the program, beginning in January 2022, all Washington workers will pay 58 cents per $100 of their earnings. There is no limit to how much you will contribute to the Long-Term Care Trust Act (LTCTA) throughout your life; however, there is a limit to the benefits. For your contribution, you will receive up to $100 per day for a maximum lifetime benefit of $36,500 (adjusted annually). This benefit is available only for care provided in the state of Washington for Washington residents and is not transferable.
There are several flaws in this program that are very concerning:
- If you live outside of Washington (such as Oregon or Idaho), but work in Washington state, you will pay into this program but receive no benefit.
- If you plan to retire outside of Washington state, you will lose your entire contribution into the system.
- If you plan to retire within the next 10 years, you will not receive a benefit for your contribution because you must work 500 hours per year for 10 years to be vested. Therefore, if you retire in nine-and-a-half years, you will lose your entire contribution into the system.
- Most agree the tax will have to be increased at some point in the near future to ensure the program's funding sustainability.
This is wholly unfair — in fact, it is taxation without representation!
There is a one-time opportunity to permanently opt out of the Trust Program and its payroll tax. You must have purchased a qualified long-term care insurance plan (private long-term care insurance) before Nov. 1, 2021. Those who have a private plan in place, must apply for an exemption from the program to the Employment Security Department (ESD) between Oct. 1, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2022. If the application is accepted, the individual is permanently exempt from the payroll tax and ineligible for future coverage from the Trust Program.
Unfortunately, many people who are just now learning about this payroll tax will likely be unable to secure private long-term care insurance before the deadlines because private insurance companies are no longer taking applications. I feel this is wrong to lock Washington citizens into a state-run program with no further options, forcing them to give up part of their hard-earned paychecks for a benefit they may never receive.
I am working on legislation to provide reforms to this program. Unfortunately, the payroll tax takes effect Jan. 1, just days before the 2022 legislative session begins Jan. 10.
I welcome your questions, comments and suggestions about the long-term care payroll tax.
Tax Structure Work Group holds virtual statewide tax town halls
Since 2019, majority Democrats in the Legislature have increased taxes by more than $11.5 billion. This is despite record state tax collections the last three legislative sessions and an influx of federal stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Check out this website for details of those tax increases.
Now, they could be looking for more ways to separate you from your hard-earned money. A 2017 budget proviso created the Tax Structure Work Group “to identify options to make the Washington state tax code more equitable, adequate, stable and transparent.” I don't know about you, but when I see legislators reviewing the tax code for more stability, it makes me think they're looking for tax increase options. Fortunately, there are four conservative Republican legislators serving on this group that are usually fierce watchdogs against tax increases, including my seatmate, Rep. Ed Orcutt.
Beginning Sept. 22 and ending Nov. 3, the Tax Structure Work Group is holding seven virtual town halls around the state in which they will be hearing what citizens have to say about state taxes, including an income tax. For the Southwest Region of Washington, including the 20th Legislative District, the group will hold two sessions on Wednesday, Oct. 20. The first one is from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. You can sign up for the afternoon session here. The second one is being held from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sign up for the evening session here. You can also see the entire schedule of tax town halls here.
Here's some good information to remember as you mark your calendar for these meetings:
- Democrats have raised taxes the last three years, including a new payroll tax (2019) and a new income tax on capital gains (2021).
- A legislative priority for House Republicans is to oppose new tax increases.
- House Republicans proposed an operating budget framework that did not raise taxes and offered tax relief to working families.
- Our state tax collections remain strong and we have plenty of revenue to pay for state priorities. We should be talking about tax relief, not tax increases.
- Bills have been introduced that would provide meaningful property tax relief.
2021 Legislator of the Year
It is an immense honor to be named “2021 Legislator of the Year” by the Washington Association of Agricultural Educators. The association is made up of teachers from across the state who dedicate their professional lives to advancing agricultural education and strengthening their own leadership skills.
Molly Majors, an agricultural teacher at Adna Middle/High School (pictured above with her daughter, Emmie) recently presented the award to me. In a press release, she notes, “Representative Abbarno has been an outstanding advocate at the state Capitol for career and technical education. He understands the importance of the history of agriculture and the future of where it is heading, and that it still needs to remain the cornerstone of not only our state, but of our nation. And he understands that students are the future of agriculture.”
Farming, agriculture, and a natural resource-based economy is a strong part of the history and tradition in southwest Washington. I appreciate the hard work and dedication of our teachers who expose and cultivate the love for our agricultural community in the classroom. My family is involved in 4-H and FFA, so I know how important it is to support these teachers, students and our agricultural community. And it is my honor to continue to do so.
Please stay in touch!
Again, be sure to mark your calendar for our 20th District drive-in town hall meeting on Monday at the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis. I also work for you throughout the year. Please contact my office any time you have questions, comments or suggestions about legislation and state government, or need legislative assistance.
You can also keep up on current events through these websites:
- Rep. Peter Abbarno: Stay on top of the latest legislative news involving the 20th District through my website.
- The Washington State Ledger: This is a legislative news aggregator administered by state House Republicans. It is a great source for information related to state government, public policy, and the legislative process. It is updated frequently.
- Capitol Buzz: This daily electronic clip service offers headlines and stories from media outlets throughout the state, including newspaper, radio, and television.
- The Current: This is an online legislative publication from the Washington House Republicans sent out every week during the legislative session and every month during the interim.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you and the citizens of the 20th Legislative District!