With Senate passage changes in state long-term care law, delay in tax, head to the governor.

A consensus priority for the 2022 legislative session – fixing the state’s flawed long-term care program and associated tax – is on its way to the governor. The state Senate yesterday concurred with two bills the House passed last week. The fixes address the law’s identified shortcomings. (Well, addressing some shortcomings, the solvency of the program, even after these amendments, remains in doubt.)

The Seattle Times reports

The Washington Senate Wednesday passed a pair of bills to delay the payroll tax for WA Cares by 18 months and change other parts of the fledgling long-term care program, sending the legislation to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk.

The passage of bills to address criticisms and concerns over a major Democratic priority comes just three weeks into the 2022 legislative session. The House voted on both pieces of legislation last week.

Speed appears to remain the order of the day, with Inslee expected to sign the bills Friday, according to a spokesperson for the governor.

Key here is that lawmakers chose to maintain the program, rather than  abandon it, as some legislators urged.

In a speech Wednesday, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig of Spokane hailed WA Cares as a “first-in-the-nation program” to help people pay for essential needs in old age and illness.

“But with such an important and impactful program … it makes sense to get it exactly right,” Billig said in a floor speech urging a vote on one of the bills.

More fixes may be coming.

Republicans Wednesday again highlighted their critiques, which included concern over others who will pay into the program but never receive benefits, such as residents who move to another state to retire.

The bills passed Wednesday do not address that group, though Democratic lawmakers have said further changes to the program could come next year.

Conservatives have also argued that the program isn’t sound enough financially, especially as more groups of people will be allowed to receive a permanent exemption from WA Cares and the payroll tax under the changes being debated.

In a floor speech, Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, announced he was a “yes” vote to delay the payroll tax, but that the Legislature should go further.

“This is just a good idea that doesn’t work … and for that reason, the right answer today should be to repeal this program,” Braun said.

Reports that the state’s paid family leave program is insolvent demonstrate the challenges of new entitlement programs.