E-News: Nation’s highest gas prices, new tax on workers make WA affordability crisis worse

July 15, 2023

Hello Friends and Neighbors,

Like many of you, my husband Tracy and I have friends and family in other states, which is why we were in the Idaho panhandle for the Fourth of July. Having seen gas prices climb steadily in our state all year long, it wasn’t a shock to see how gas is so much cheaper in Idaho – it was more like an unhappy reminder of how Governor Inslee’s climate campaign is hurting families, yet their pain doesn’t seem to matter to him.

For the record I don’t recall exactly what gas cost in Idaho when we were there, but as of yesterday it was at $3.91, on average – more than a dollar below the average in Washington. Even so, I expect the governor would quickly point to the Tunnel 5 fire in Skamania County as justification for his policies. After all, when visiting the fire scene last week he told reporters at a briefing in Carson how “the smoke behind us comes from climate change.”

I doubt that makes motorists in Skamania County feel better about paying $5.22 price per gallon, on average, while their counterparts in Hood River County, across the Columbia in Oregon, pay an average of $4.59 for the same gallon of regular unleaded.

Unfortunately, gas is just one of the things that is costing you more because of government policies. There’s a new tax hitting many Washington workers, with no way out for most. I touched on both when state government’s latest revenue forecast was announced but will dive a little deeper in this newsletter.

‘Fix this flawed program to make it work’

Until about three weeks ago, California had the nation’s highest gas prices. Then Washington moved ahead – just in time for the extra driving many families do during summer vacation from school, as Senate Republican Leader John Braun noted in this public statement.

My office and many others have received messages from people that conclude a state law passed in 2021 is directly responsible for Washington’s high gas prices now. I agree that this law, officially called the Climate Commitment Act, is the primary driver of the pain people are feeling at the pump. It functions as a gas tax without doing a thing to fix roads, which is why the nickname “cap-and-tax” fits better than the “cap-and-invest” or “cap-and-trade” others use. Here’s a portion of one of those emails:

“I am writing to urge you to act immediately to FIX Washington’s deeply flawed and enormously costly new cap-and-trade program that was launched earlier this year. “Independent sources, such as Washington Policy Center and Washington Research Council (WRC) estimate that based on the May 31st auction price, the compliance costs for this program are adding 44 cents per gallon to the cost to manufacture gasoline and 55 cents per gallon to the cost to manufacture diesel.

“The Seattle Times reports that the Department of Ecology has collected almost $850 million in compliance costs so far this year. An independent analysis conducted by WRC also estimates the program could cost $1.5 billion by year-end. These costs are three times higher than originally estimated when the legislature voted cap-and-trade into law.

“I urge you to work with your legislative colleagues to fix this flawed program to make it work as intended in meeting our climate goals without placing enormous cost burdens on Washington families, small businesses, family farmers and working people across our state.”

The May 31 auction referenced here is the latest of two sales of carbon “allowances” by the state this year, with more to come. As anyone who understands the relationship between the cost of doing business and the prices paid by customers would know, the $850 million in “compliance costs” already paid helps explain why Washington gas prices have continued upward all year while they’ve fallen in other states.

In each of the past two legislative sessions, Senate Republicans have proposed lowering gas prices through a temporary suspension of Washington’s 49.4-cent state gas tax (Senate Bill 5897 in 2022, and this year, SB 5756). Democrats showed zero interest – meaning they would not even agree to hold a public hearing on either bill and listen to the valid concerns many of you have expressed to me. On top of that, Democratic lawmakers and Governor Inslee are denying the Climate Commitment Act has anything to do with Washington now having the highest gas prices in the U.S.

The reality is, too many of the people who control our state government don’t seem to care if you are paying more for gas. They see higher gas prices as the way to force people into public transit and electric vehicles, even if it makes living in Washington even harder to afford.

Let people choose whether payroll tax is right for them

As of this month, any paycheck cut in Washington is subject to the new long-term care tax, unless the check goes to someone who has obtained an exemption from state government. That tax is equal to $58 per month for every $10,000 in pay.

Without an exemption, you’ll pay this tax for as long as you are employed in Washington, yet the lifetime benefit is limited to no more than $36,500 in long-term care coverage through the new WA Cares program. That could increase if it’s indexed to inflation, to be fair, but the cost of long-term care isn’t exactly holding still either.

The idea that workers could pay into the system for 20-30 years and, in exchange, cover maybe 4-5 months in an assisted-living facility is very real. No wonder the WA Cares tax is so unpopular; 63% of Washington voters rejected it when given the chance to weigh in through an advisory vote on the 2019 ballot.

The many flaws in the WA Cares program/tax are detailed here, as is the thinking behind a solution I and other Republican senators put on the table this week. Having seen around 500,000 workers scramble to shield themselves from the tax during a one-time exemption window in late 2021, we believe those who have entered the workforce since then – or who missed that one opportunity because demand for private policies crashed the market in our state (and then insurance companies pulled out of our state well before the deadline)– deserve the same choice now. However, the opt-out we propose wouldn’t have a deadline, nor would we require people to prove that they’d purchased other long-term care coverage – two major differences from before.

The average worker is losing around $24 each month in take-home pay now. That’s close to five gallons of regular unleaded at Governor Inslee’s prices – and there is nothing to prevent an increase in the tax rate on workers, especially if concerns about the financial stability of WA Cares turn out to be true. Click here to read the latest draft of our proposal.

Thank you, American Cancer Society!

In case I haven’t said it before: I don’t propose legislation for the purpose of receiving accolades, nor do I expect them. It’s still nice to be recognized, though, which is why I appreciate that the American Cancer Society honored me Thursday as its Legislator of the Year.

My cancer story began in fall 2018. I was already working on legislation to let Washington hunters wear “blaze pink” safety clothing when a breast self-exam led to a cancer diagnosis – and suddenly the color pink took on a very personal significance. The 2019 legislative session fell in the middle of my course of treatment, and during that session, many in the legislative community signaled their support by wearing pink on Wednesdays.

This life-changing experience has led me to champion legislation to provide insurance coverage for biomarker testing and mastectomies, and provide women with timely information about breast health. I’ve been proud to secure millions of dollars in funding for cancer research and support services, and the 2023 session was another good one for progress on cancer awareness and treatment.

The Senate passed my Senate Resolution 8617, which declares the month of March to be “Triple Negative Breast Cancer Awareness Month” in the state of Washington. I also won near-unanimous support for Senate Bill 5396, which is about eliminating financial barriers for commercial insurance patients who require medically necessary diagnostic breast imaging. I missed the signing ceremony for this bill because, fittingly, I just happened to be at my regular 6-month checkup with my breast-cancer doctor. But, I was able to view it on TVW while awaiting for my doctor to arrive!

The ACS honor was presented at the ACS – Cancer Action Network Summit, in Seattle; it was followed by a tour of the world-renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. That gave me a great opportunity to talk with the actual doctors who work in the field for which I ran the bill the last two years – biomarkers! The work they’re doing is really something, to put it mildly, and it gives you hope.


I hope you will reach out whenever you have a comment or question about your state government.

Yours in service,

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