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Washington Republicans propose opt out on long term care payroll tax

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(The Center Square) – A group of Washington Republican lawmakers are drafting a bill to introduce in the next legislative session allowing workers to opt out of a long-term care payroll tax enacted in 2019. The program was initially delayed until July of this year.

“People are tired of additional taxes,” Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said at a July 10 online press conference.

The program imposes a 58-cent tax on every $100 earned. The program applies to all workers in the state, who will be vested after 10 years and able to receive a maximum of $36,500 in lifetime benefit for in-home nursing care.

The payroll tax has proved controversial and, evidently, unpopular with voters. During the 2019 advisory votes on new taxes, voters rejected the program by 63%. Advisory votes were eliminated by the Legislature during this year’s session.

Rep. Lynda Wilson said, “we need to start listening to [voters]. The ability to opt out now is a good idea. A good percentage of the people, 25-year-olds, won’t be able to use it. By the time they get to 75 years old….they won’t be participating in the program.”

One objection to the program is its compulsory nature. Unless workers proactively opted out of the program prior to the cutoff date for having a private long-term care plan, they will have to pay the tax. The Republicans’ proposal would allow workers to opt out voluntarily and without having to have a private plan.

“We think people need a choice,” Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said at the press conference. “Young people just entering the workforce. They’re not ready to buy a home. We’re making them buy long-term care. We ought to give them a choice what to do with their money.”

When asked by a journalist whether making the program voluntary would undermine it, Braun replied that “if you develop a program like this that has so many folks…who want to opt out, you need to rethink it.”

“I would certainly acknowledge it’s [nursing care costs] a real problem,” he said. “It’s [long term care payroll tax] just not a real solution.”

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