Democrats reject move to consider Abbarno’s repeal bill; approve 18-month delay, additional exemptions in flawed state’s long-term care insurance program and payroll tax

Motions by House Republicans to have floor votes on two bills relating to the state’s controversial long-term care insurance program and payroll tax were rejected Wednesday by majority Democrats.

House Bill 1594, sponsored by Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, would repeal the program. House Bill 1913, sponsored by Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, would repeal and replace it. House Democrats have refused to give either bill a public hearing in the House Appropriations Committee.

Instead, Democrats brought two of their own bills to the House floor for a vote. The first measure, House Bill 1732, would delay implementation of the program by 18 months and move premium collections out to July 1, 2023. The second, House Bill 1733, would create four new voluntary exemptions from the program.

During floor debate as Abbarno asked for HB 1594 to be brought to the floor for a vote, the 20th District lawmaker talked of his concerns about solvency of the program.

“I was not here in the House in 2019 when WA Cares was passed. I followed the issue like many families and small businesses. I was not here in 2020 when the Office of the State Actuary released its report on WA Cares. I studied the report to work on solutions. Now I am here, and I have offered legislation to repeal the program after being vocal about this issue all summer long,” said Abbarno. “With an actuarial report evidencing insolvency, the exchange of ideas should be broad and inclusive, and most importantly, bipartisan. That was not the case in committee. So, I am here asking for an open discussion on HB 1594.”

Abbarno said pausing the program delays a very flawed program and doesn’t actually fix the underlying solvency problems.

“My legislation would address solvency, period. It creates a predictability for all those workers paying into the WA Cares plan and those workers with private policies,” noted Abbarno. “Pausing the program is one option. Repealing an insolvent program is another option that should be considered.”

Democrats rejected Abbarno’s motion, 57-40. They did the same with a similar motion by Stokesbary on House Bill 1913.

The Centralia Republican also spoke against further exemptions, saying House Bill 1733 would create greater insolvency of the program.

“To say this bill is a fix is like playing music on the sinking Titanic. This bill may address concerns of some workers but does not fix solvency. The people opting out and being opted out today may not have to pay the 58 cents per $100 of their wages, but another funding source will have to pay to keep this fund solvent. The taxes of working families and small business become the duct tape on this sinking ship,” added Abbarno.

“HB 1773 offers more opt outs, but does not address the regressive tax, the restrictive investment strategy, or the limited benefit. And all three need to work for this program to be successful. Ultimately, as the ship sinks faster and faster because of these so called fixes, it will become more likely that higher taxes must be imposed on all Washingtonians, in and out of the program, to keep this vessel afloat,” said Abbarno. “If these opt-outs in HB 1773 were really a fix, the House would not have needed to pause the program for 18 months in HB 1772.

“My hope is that the 18-month delay could help get House Democrats to the table to work on solutions. That has not happened thus far,” Abbarno continued. “Let’s be the Washington of ideas where we discuss options, collaborate across the aisle, communicate openly, and most importantly find real solutions together.”

House Bill 1732 to delay the long-term care insurance program and payroll tax passed, 91-6, with Abbarno voting yes. House Bill 1733 to create more exemptions was adopted, 67-29, with Abbarno voting no.

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov