I hope you, your family and friends had a safe, memorable and enjoyable Independence Day. The 4th of July is a special time to reflect on the freedoms and opportunities in the United States of America. We are fortunate to live in the land of freedom, the shining beacon of liberty on the hill, which all began on that day in 1776 when 56 men pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, to birth a new nation upholding the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is my honor to be a part of this Great Experiment and to serve as your state representative in the 20th District. Our district is beautiful, diverse, and offers amazing economic and quality of life opportunities from Rainier in Thurston County through Ridgefield in Clark County. I am proud to tell anyone who will listen that Southwest Washington and the 20th District is the best place to live in Washington state.
I wanted to take a few minutes to provide a legislative update on some of the latest issues and topics in state government.
Long-term care program and payroll tax takes effect
Despite my efforts and the efforts of my Republican colleagues to repeal the Democrats' new unfair and unpopular long-term care insurance program and payroll tax, the state-run program and the tax went into effect on Saturday, July 1.
The new program was established by the passage of House Bill 1087 in the 2019 legislative session, which was before I was in office. The bill made way for the creation of the WA Cares Fund to provide individuals who have paid into the program for a specified period of time with a limited lifetime benefit of up to $36,500 to assist with future long-term care costs. The legislation created a new payroll tax of $0.58 per $100 of earnings.
Unfortunately, there is no longer any opt-out. If you were unable to secure a private plan, you will begin having your paycheck reduced for this program.
If you make $50,000 a year, this tax will cost you $290 annually or $24.17 monthly. With larger incomes, you'll be paying more. You can estimate your costs and get more information here.
Here's why I opposed this program and the payroll tax:
It's unpopular. In the November 2019 general election, 62.92% of Washington voters said in Advisory Vote No. 20 the program should be repealed. Almost 500,000 Washington workers were able to escape the program through the opt-out.
It's unfair. This new tax is another burden for people living paycheck-to-paycheck and trying to make ends meet in this age of high inflation. It is a regressive tax that hurts the households that could least afford to pay the additional tax. If you never need the benefit, you forfeit all the money invested from your paycheck. If your spouse needs the benefit, they are not eligible for your contributions. If you retire out of state, you lose all your benefit.
It's inadequate. The limited $36,500 will hardly cover health needs for the long term. There are also questions about solvency of the program and the possibility the Legislature may have to increase the payroll tax in the future. We heard testimony throughout the past three years that the benefit is very small and gives workers the false impression their long-term care needs are going to be met. It is a short-term Band-Aid that provides very little benefit compared to a lifetime of contributions to the system.
During the 2023 session, I introduced House Bill 1011 to repeal this program, and numerous bills to address your concerns. Democrats would not give these bills any hearings. During debate of the state operating budget in April, I offered an amendment to repeal the program. Amendment 545 was voted down by House Democrats.
Learn more. . .
- Radio Report: Long-term care payroll tax begins this Saturday, July 1, despite Republican objections
- Radio interview: Rep. Peter Abbarno talks to KXL's Lars Larson about the state's flawed long-term care program and payroll tax that takes effect July 1
- Radio interview: Rep. Peter Abbarno discusses the long-term care payroll tax set to take effect on July 1, 2023 on KIRO Radio – April 7, 2023
- Column: Rep. Peter Abbarno: Impact of new payroll tax is unpopular, unfair and inadequate – The Chronicle, April 5, 2023
- Floor speech: Rep. Peter Abbarno proposes amendment to eliminate unpopular, unfair long-term care payroll tax
Governor's climate policies boost gas prices in Washington state
According to AAA, Washington state now has the highest gasoline prices in the nation with an average state price of $4.912. Part of the reason we are paying higher prices than other states is due to state taxes and climate policies pushed by Gov. Inslee and adopted by the majority party in the Legislature.
For example, gasoline in Washington is taxed at a rate of 49.40 cents per gallon, the third highest among states. State gas taxes account for about 11.2% of the total cost of fuel.
Now enter the Climate Commitment Act, the state's cap-and-trade program from the governor and the majority party that was adopted by the Legislature in 2021 but took effect in January. Affordable Fuel Washington reports prices in Washington state have spiked an additional 44 cents for gasoline and 54 cents for diesel fuel since the state launched the tax on CO2 emissions at the beginning of this year.
In a recent column I wrote to The Chronicle, I talked about “The Real Impact of Higher Gas Prices” and how they are felt at the kitchen table. I invite you to read the article here.
Zack's Law to take effect July 23
Even though we are experiencing warmer weather, our glacier-fed rivers and streams are still very cold. Those low temperatures could lead to cold-water shock for unprepared swimmers.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the human body responds to cold water immersion with an increased heartbeat and blood pressure, faster breathing, uncontrolled gasping, and sometimes uncontrolled movement. Lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, the cold-shock response can be deadly by itself. Victims may panic, take on water in that first uncontrolled gasp, cold incapacitation sets in, making it difficult for the person to move arms and legs, hypothermia begins, and as many as 20% die in the first two minutes.
That's what happened to 18-year-old Zachary Lee Rager, an experienced swimmer who fell victim to cold-water shock and drowned in the Chehalis River on March 23, 2021. In his honor, I sponsored House Bill 1004, also known as “Zack's Law,” which requires state government agencies and local governments to erect signs warning of drowning hazards when replacing or erecting signs near dangerous water hazards.
The bill passed the Legislature unanimously during the 2023 session and was signed into law. It takes effect July 23. Hopefully, this will help people become informed so they can protect themselves and their families from this danger.
Go and enjoy yourself this summer. But please do be careful around our waterways!
Closure of Larch Corrections Center a big mistake!
That's what I told Jason Rantz recently on his radio program after the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) announced it will close Larch Corrections Center in Clark County this fall.
DOC attributes the closure to a decline in the prison population. However, I believe this is about bad policies. Nothing about the announcement should be construed as a victory on reducing crime. In fact, our state has experienced a rise in crime over the past two years when the Legislature restricted police pursuits and provided a less than adequate response to the state Supreme Court's ruling against Washington's drug possession law. We made significant changes to those laws during the 2023 session and a one-day special session in May to hold criminals accountable and get drug addicts off the streets and into treatment. Closing prisons right now is just a bad move.
Many others agree with my assessment. More than 100 people met Thursday in Battle Ground for a town hall meeting organized by Larch staff to speak out against the closure.
Infrastructure and housing grants/loans available, but you must act soon!
Deadlines are quickly approaching for applications to millions of dollars of Washington State Public Works Board (PWB) grants, including one that closes for applications at midnight tonight.
Approximately $221 million in state loans and grants are available for infrastructure construction projects, $7 million for pre-construction loans and grants, and $7 million in emergency loans and grants. Cities, towns, counties, special purpose districts, and quasi-municipal organizations may apply. Eligible infrastructure systems include streets and roads, bridges, domestic water, stormwater, sanitary sewer, and solid waste, recycling and organics. PWB will accept funding applications for infrastructure construction projects through 11:59 p.m. tonight, July 7. Applications for pre-construction and emergency construction projects will be accepted until all allocated funds are exhausted. More information is available here.
PWB is also accepting loan applications for broadband construction. Pre-applications are due by 11:59 p.m., July 18. About $13.5 million is available for broadband construction loans to acquire, install, or construct last and middle mile infrastructure in unserved areas of the state. Applicants eligible include local governments, tribes, nonprofit organizations, cooperative associations, multiparty entities, and limited liability corporations, incorporated businesses and partnerships. You can learn more here.
Do you have some projects around your local parks that need some general maintenance? The Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office announced a new, one-time grant for Local Parks Maintenance . If your park has projects on its list that have been backlogged and your community needs help making these improvements, consider applying for this new grant! Grants may be between $50,000 and $100,000 per project and all funding must be spent before June 30, 2025. Applications are due Sept. 18, 2023. Learn more here.
Applications are also now open from the Washington State Department of Commerce for more than $300 million in capital to develop multifamily rental housing projects. At more than $300 million available, it's the state's largest single funding round to date for housing. Funds are available to eligible non-profits, local governments, community housing development agencies, tribal governments and housing authorities. Over $290 million comes from the Washington Legislature's historic appropriation for the 2023-25 biennium, including $24.2 million set aside for projects serving persons with disabilities and $107.4 million from the Apple Health and Homes program. Applications are due Sept. 18. Get more information about the application process here.
I work for you throughout the year
Even though the Legislature is not in session, I am still actively advocating on your behalf on the issues affecting the 20th Legislative District. Please call my office if you have questions, comments or suggestions about legislation and state government. If you are getting the run-around from a state agency, please reach out to my office. Often, we can help dig through the red tape and help get results.
In addition, if you need a speaker for your group or civic organization, I would be honored to join you. My contact information is below.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve and represent you! Be safe and enjoy our summer weather!