Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope you are finding time to enjoy some of our beautiful Washington summer weather with your loved ones.
In this month’s update, I want to update you on a couple of issues I know are impacting all of our wallets.
Why Your Paycheck is Smaller
I am sure most of you noticed your paycheck has gotten smaller.
The reason? On July 1, the state began collecting the new payroll tax for the WA Cares Fund – Washington’s new long-term care insurance program.
This program was established by the passage of House Bill 1087 in the 2019 legislative session, prior to my being sworn into office. The legislation created a new payroll tax of $0.58 per $100 of earnings for virtually everyone working in Washington state unless they were fortunate enough to meet the narrow criteria allowing them to opt out. Unfortunately, the window to opt out if you did meet those criteria has now closed. The new tax will cost those earning $50,000 annually nearly $300 per year.
READ: Learn more about the long-term care payroll tax here.
This unpopular tax that shrinks your paycheck is not only unfair – it also fails to provide an adequate benefit to those forced to pay it.
Unpopular – In November 2019, voters in Washington overwhelmingly rejected the program when nearly 63% said in Advisory Vote No. 20 that the program should be repealed.
Unfair – This new tax is another burden for people living paycheck-to-paycheck and trying to make ends meet in a time of high inflation and soaring costs. It is yet another regressive tax in Washington that hurts the families least able to afford it. If you never use the benefit, you forfeit all the contributions you’ve paid into the program, you can’t transfer your unused benefit to your spouse, and if you retire out of state, you lose all your benefit.
Inadequate – The limited $36,500 lifetime benefit is not even close to what one would need to cover the cost of long-term care for an extended period of time. There are also questions about the solvency of the program and there are already discussions about the possible need to increase the payroll tax in the future.
House Republicans proposed multiple bills during the 2023 session to repeal or fix this program, but they received no support from the majority in power.
There are multiple efforts underway right now to propose new legislation in 2024 aimed at fixing this program, including creating a more permanent opt-out, and giving people more opportunities to use the private market for better rates and coverage so, stay tuned.
The Price at the Pump
The alarming rise in gas prices is hitting so many people in our community hard. Washingtonians are already dealing with the high cost of everything due to inflation, and now our gas prices have risen to nearly $1.50 a gallon above the national average. Last month, our state took the unwanted top spot as the state with the highest average gas prices in the nation when the average cost reached $4.91 a gallon. As of this E-mail, the national average price is $3.56, while Washington gas prices sit at an average of $4.94 per gallon.
See the latest Washington gas prices from AAA here.
While there are multiple factors that can drive up the cost of gasoline, taxes are a big driver, as are the recent climate policies passed by the majority in power.
In Washington state, gasoline is taxed at a rate of 49.4 cents per gallon. That is the third-highest gas tax rate in the country and accounts for more than 11% of what you pay every time you fill up the tank.
Add to that the Climate Commitment Act, Washington’s cap-and-trade program passed by the majority party in 2021 that was implemented in January of this year. Affordable Fuel Washington reports gas prices in Washington state have spiked an additional 44 cents for gasoline and 54 cents for diesel fuel since the state launched this program and the corresponding tax on CO2 emissions.
AAA compares WA state gas prices to national average in the chart below dated July 20, 2023
The surge in gas prices has a devastating ripple effect that leads to even higher costs for goods and services and fewer donations to charitable organizations and food banks. It hurts small businesses, low to middle-income families, and seniors the most.
As assistant ranking member on the House Transportation Committee, I am hopeful that during the 2024 legislative session, we can find ways to balance necessary environmental policies with these regressive costs that perpetuate the cycle of poverty across the state.
In addition, I recently joined several of my House Republican colleagues in signing on to a letter Sen. Chris Gildon recently wrote to the Washington Department of Ecology laying out several steps the department could act on right now to provide the people of Washington relief from the pain at the pump.
As I mentioned in my previous update, we passed a bipartisan bill during a one-day special session in May that created a new state drug possession law. Much of the new law took effect this month to replace the expiring law that had been in effect for the past two years. We saw a dramatic increase in open-air drug use on our streets during that time, as well as deadly overdoses – especially among older adults. This new law gives law enforcement more tools and discretion and provides, in my view, the right balance of accountability and compassion we need on this issue. My hope is it will lead to a visible difference on our streets and save lives. I will be keeping a close eye on the situation in the 39th Legislative District in the months ahead as this new law takes hold. I will also be in close contact with my seatmates regarding any future legislation that may be needed, so stay tuned.
Recently, I was honored to be appointed to sit on the Aerospace Workforce Council (AWC).
The AWC creates the framework for the apprenticeship utilization reporting system and pathways for the aviation industry to use that highly skilled workforce in the future. Washington state and the 39th Legislative District are a global center of the aerospace industry with companies such as Boeing providing tens of thousands of good paying jobs. The AWC helps ensure the continued success of the overall aviation industry by effectively developing the talent to meet the needs of the industry and become part of the aerospace workforce.
I have also been nominated to the state Election Administration and Certification Board, which helps oversee the integrity of elections in our state.
I’m Here for You
I want to try something new in this update and share a story about a connection we made recently with a member of our community. For privacy sake, I won’t share any names.
This individual reached out to my office for help with an issue they were having with the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). They were in need of reading glasses that L&I would not approve. My office was able to connect with the L&I liaison to find out what the issue was. In the end, we were able to get our constituent not one, but two approved pair of reading glasses. My legislative office and I, take pleasure in helping others where we can, which is the reason for me sharing this story.
This is just one example of many that my office and I do every week to help people in our community, so, please remember to reach out any time for anything you may need help with at the state level. Whether it is help securing a new pair of reading glasses or sharing concerns about traffic or crime in your neighborhood or your child’s education. I always want to hear about whatever is on your mind and will do whatever I can to help. For more detail on what I am working please visit my legislative website.
I also continue to be busy in our community. Last Monday, I toured the Boys and Girls Club in Sedro Woolley, the next day I attended the Skagit County Commissioners Meeting on Elk. The following day I spoke at The Sedro Woolley Chamber Meeting with Representative Eslick (last month was Lake Stevens and Sky Valley Chamber speaking engagements) and then on Thursday after a meeting in Mt Vernon at the North Sound Behavioral Health-ASO, I headed over to the Sedro Woolley Rotary Club for lunch and a great presentation by two young community members. If you or your organization have an event you would like me to attend, please let me know by Email.
Contact: Rep. Low’s legislative office here.
That is all I have for this update. Look for another update in a month or so when I will share details on an opportunity to connect in person later this year.
Until then, please have a wonderful and safe summer with your loved ones!