Legislature sends Braun’s taxpayer-protection measure to ballot

Proposed constitutional amendment would bring stability to long-term care fund

OLYMPIA…More than a year before Washington workers are required to begin paying into a long-term care fund, Washington voters will have an opportunity to direct those payroll-tax dollars into investments that could strengthen the fund while protecting taxpayers.

Late Thursday night the House of Representatives easily passed Sen. John Braun’s proposed constitutional amendment authorizing the future payroll-tax revenue to be invested in stocks and bonds. The Senate had approved Senate Joint Resolution 8212 in mid-February; the measure, signed today by the president of the Senate, will bypass the governor and go directly to the secretary of state for placement on this year’s general-election ballot. Collection of the tax for the long-term care program, which was adopted in 2019, will begin in 2022.

“I understand the concerns about the cost of long-term care but I absolutely disagreed with the majority’s position that a new tax on workers and a new government program are the answer. It was a bad idea to start with, but it would be even worse if the long-term care program went upside-down financially – and we know from the new paid family leave program how things may not go according to plan,” said Braun, R-Centralia and Senate Republican budget leader.

“Workers shouldn’t have to be faced with paying more tax or receiving fewer benefits than were promised, and taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to backfill a deficit in the program. Investing the money collected from the payroll tax through the State Investment Board – just like the public pension funds – is our best shot at making sure the program remains solvent. I’m grateful for the strong support this proposal received from both sides of the aisle.”

The average return from investments made by the state treasurer is 2 percent, significantly less than the 5.3-percent rate of return necessary – based on projections – to keep the long-term care fund solvent. Washington’s constitution prohibits the state from having equity investments, meaning stocks and bonds. However, voters have amended the constitution over the years to allow equity investments of certain funds, such as money tied to public pensions, in hopes of bringing a higher return.

Considering the payroll tax would take $290 per year from someone paid $50,000, Braun said those paying the tax would have plenty of reason to support SJR 8212.

“If the return on investment came in above 6 percent, which is more than the projected need for this new program, we may have the opportunity to look at reducing the payroll tax or expand the benefit. This proposal represents a common-sense way for taxpayers to protect themselves and possibly end up saving billions,” Braun said.

Proposals to amend the constitution require a two-thirds “yes” vote in both legislative chambers, higher than any other form of legislation. Braun’s legislation was supported by 92 percent of the Senate and 98 percent of House members.