Newsletter: Car-tab relief and the crisis in skilled nursing facilities

The passage of I-976 sends a strong message to legislators and Sound Transit

For the past several years, I have led the effort to bring car-tab relief to the counties that were subjected to the exorbitant fees levied on behalf of the Sound Transit’s ST3 light rail project. This includes Pierce County, where voters rejected ST3 and the car-tab tax.

During that time, I warned my colleagues in the Legislature that if they didn’t do their job, voters would take action through the initiative process. I predicted such a response would result in a bigger impact to state revenue than the 55-percent cut to the Sound Transit portion of car-tabs in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties that my legislation would have done. This is exactly what has happened.

“It is clear that the majority of voters objected to
current car tab levels.”

– Gov. Jay Inslee

Election results are showing passage of I-976, which sends a very strong message to Sound Transit. This message is particularly loud in Pierce County where the measure is passing by 67%. Car-tab fees are too high. People can’t afford them and they are angry no one has been listening to their calls for relief.

I-976 could have been avoided.

It was the legislature’s job to show leadership, but the majority party repeatedly killed my bills saying that the light rail project was too important to give car-tab relief that would compromise the revenue Sound Transit expected.

In a recent Washington State Supreme Court hearing, an attorney for Sound Transit made a similar argument before the court, claiming that it was irrelevant if the tax came about in an unconstitutional way because changing it would cost Sound Transit up to $18 billion. Justice Gonzalez told the attorney that it didn’t matter if it cost Sound Transit $1 or $18 billion. What matters is that our laws and our methods for passing them is legal. Process matters. The legislative process is foundational. If it is compromised, the whole system crumbles.

While we wait to see how I-976 will impact transportation projects, and how the Legislature will look to replace that revenue, I once again caution my colleagues.

Do right by taxpayers.


Fixing Washington’s nursing home crisis

Washington state has a crisis in skilled nursing care. Facility closures, primarily due to inadequate state reimbursements for Medicaid patients, have left many residents without a place to go. We need to fix that.

Washington currently has the fourth highest Medicaid shortfall in the country. A bill I am sponsoring this legislative session would increase state reimbursements for patients on Medicaid. It would also require that the rates be rebased annually on industry data from the most recent calendar year. Right now, rates are determined based on out-of-date information. When the rates get rebased in 2020, it will be upon data that is nearly four years behind.

The discrepancy is causing many of Washington’s skilled nursing facilities to close, forcing residents to relocate, which creates trauma that can disrupt their mental and physical health. It can even lead to death.

Those on Medicaid have few options, since many facilities will not accept Medicaid patients even if they have openings.

Our elderly population served society, paid their taxes and built our country – they raised us. And it’s shocking that their lives are turned upside down and their health jeopardized because the state is basing its Medicaid reimbursements on old information.

We already see that there aren’t enough facilities left to provide the level of care many of our elderly need. And, we expect we will need to double the number of beds by 2035. We won’t be able to keep up unless we update our system of determining our rates and increase the payments to skilled nursing facilities.

In the past nine years, more than 30 Washington nursing homes have closed, two-thirds of which have been in the last three years alone. This translates into the closure of 10 percent of our skilled nursing facilities and a loss of nearly 1,100 beds.

Washington currently spends, on average, $216 per day per patient on Medicaid reimbursements to skilled nursing facilities. By contrast, Oregon spends an average of $326 per patient per day. Since 70 percent of the cost of running a skilled nursing facility is staff, the $15 minimum wage is greatly affecting their ability to cover expenses. Idaho, which has a $7.25 minimum wage, roughly half that of Washington’s, even spends $50 more per patient per day.

This issue boils down to respect. We are kicking our older generation when they’re down. And we are setting a bad example for how we should be treated when we eventually need skilled nursing care.

We once had the highest reimbursement rates in the country. Having the fourth highest Medicaid shortfall in the United States is unacceptable. We must do better.

Today I held a press conference announcing my bill. Click here to watch the footage on TVW.


Survey Results: Independent Contractors

Of those of you who are independent contractors or freelancers, and responded to last week’s survey, nearly 100 percent of you would rather remain independent and self-employed than become employees — even if becoming an employee came with benefits. People contract because they want to determine their own schedules, set their own rates, and control their business practices. Forcing independent contractors to become employees is in direct conflict with why they are contracting in the first place. I’ll update you as more develops on this issue this coming session.