Conservatives file measure to make opting out of long-term care tax easier

OLYMPIA — It would become a lot easier for workers to stop paying Washington’s new long-term care services tax under an initiative delivered Thursday to the Secretary of State.

The proposed ballot measure, Initiative 2124, adds a requirement that “an employee or self-employed person in Washington must elect” to have money deducted from their paycheck for coverage and be able to “opt-out at any time.”

Current law requires most employees in the state to pay the payroll tax. Individuals are eligible for the lifetime benefit of $36,500 if they pay into the program for at least 10 years without a break from work of five years or more. The maximum benefit figure will be adjusted for inflation.

Critics say not everyone who pays in will ever be able to qualify for the full benefit and thus should be able to get out of the program if they desire.

“All this does is give people a choice,” said Brian Heywood, founder of Let’s Go Washington and chief funder of the signature-gathering effort. “Anyone who chooses to step away from their career for a time has to start over and may end up with nothing to show for all the money taken out of their paycheck.”

Heywood said supporters turned in 424,896 signatures for Initiative 2124.

It is the last of six measures authored by state Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, and submitted by Let’s Go Washington, the conservative political committee sponsored by Heywood, a hedge-fund manager.

The other measures would repeal the state’s cap-and-trade program and capital gains tax, remove most restrictions on police engaging in vehicle pursuits, bar the state and local governments from imposing an income tax, and create a “bill of rights” for parents of public school students.

This latest measure targets the entitlement program, known as WA Cares, which is funded through a payroll tax on full-time, part-time and temporary workers in Washington unless they have an approved exemption.

Deductions from paychecks began July 1. Benefits will become available in July 2026.

Federal employees do not contribute. Employees of tribal businesses do not either unless the tribe has chosen to opt in, according to the state. Self-employed workers are only eligible for benefits if they choose to pay into the program.

If the initiative leads to thousands of workers no longer paying into the fund, it would undermine and effectively end the program, say those who helped establish it.

“Millions of working Washingtonians are counting on the WA Cares Fund to help pay for their care in case of injury, illness or age,” said Jessica Gomez, campaign manager of We Care For WA Cares, a coalition of Washington health care and worker organizations. “This initiative would force workers to choose between depleting their savings to qualify for Medicaid, or betting on long-term care insurance only the wealthiest can afford.”

To be certified, petitions for each initiative must contain the signatures of at least 324,516 registered voters. State election officials recommend initiative sponsors submit at least 405,000 signatures to account for any found to be invalid.

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Jerry Cornfield writes for the Washington State Standard (https://washingtonstatestandard.com), an independent, nonprofit news organization that produces original reporting on policy and politics.

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