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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I hope you all had the opportunity to celebrate the 4th of July with family and friends and make wonderful new memories.

I am so grateful for the freedoms and opportunities we are afforded in our country. As I spent the holiday with my amazing family reflecting on our nation’s nearly 250-year-old history, I was reminded how important it is that we never take those freedoms and opportunities for granted.

Many things seem out of control in our state and nation in 2023. We are coming out of a strange few years and looking at the possibility of uncertain times ahead. Unfortunately, with every passing day, there seem to be fresh challenges.

This month, I want to share my thoughts with you about some of those challenges and, more importantly, what I am doing and what you can do to address these challenges that impact our lives.

Why Your Paycheck is Smaller

First, I am sure most of you noticed your last paycheck was smaller. If you have not, you soon will.

Despite my efforts to repeal the new long-term care payroll tax and those of House Republican leaders, 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 bill created the WA Cares Fund to provide individuals who have paid into the program for a specified period of time with a limited lifetime benefit of up to $36,500 to assist with future long-term care costs. To earn that limited benefit, virtually every working person in Washington state will have the new payroll tax of $0.58 per $100 of earnings deducted from their paycheck.

I will not mince words. This terrible program that will do next to nothing to help you cover long-term care needs is unfair and unpopular.

Unpopular – In the November 2019 general election, nearly 63% of Washington voters said the program should be repealed in Advisory Vote No. 20. Almost 500,000 Washington workers were able to escape the program through the opt out. Unfortunately, the window to opt out if you meet the very narrow criteria has now closed.

UnfairThis new tax is another burden for people living paycheck-to-paycheck and trying to make ends meet in this age of high inflation. It is a regressive tax that hurts the households that could least afford to pay the additional tax. If you never need the benefit, you forfeit all the money invested from your paycheck. If your spouse needs the benefit, they are not eligible for your contributions. If you retire out of state, you lose all your benefit.

Inadequate  The limited $36,500 will hardly cover long-term health needs and won’t even become available until 2026. Beyond that, there were already concerns about the solvency of the program and discussions about the possibility of increasing this tax before the tax even started to be collected.

During the 2023 session, I cosponsored House Bill 1011 to repeal this program, and there were many other bills from House Republicans to address various concerning aspects of the program. The majority party would not give these bills any hearings and voted down House Republican amendments to the operating budget that would have repealed the tax.

This tax will be collected for now, but rest assured, I plan to get behind more legislation to undo this awful tax that only hurts most Washingtonians in the next session.

Learn more about the new long-term care payroll tax here.

The Price at the Pump

The new payroll tax could not come at a worse time as the people of Washington state continue to deal 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 – and at last check the third highest gas prices in the nation. Washington knocked California out of the top spot the week of June 21, when the average cost reached $4.91 a gallon. As of July 17, the national average price has reached $3.57, while Washington gas prices sit at an average of $4.94 a gallon.

See the latest Washington gas prices from AAA here.

As we predicted, the state’s new carbon pricing program is fueling much of the surge. The program charges businesses for the greenhouse gases they emit – cost experts say oil companies started passing that on to consumers even before they had to start paying it this year, tacking on nearly 50 cents a gallon. 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 Republican on the House Transportation Committee, my hope is we can explore ways to balance necessary environmental policies with these regressive costs that perpetuate the cycle of poverty in the upcoming session and beyond and fix this broken system.

The Washington Department of Ecology can and should take action now to slow the alarming rise in fuel prices hurting not just Washington drivers – but everyone in our state in the long run.

Public Safety

With each passing day, I am more concerned about the state of public safety in Washington.

As you may know, Christie and I have three small children. We were all in Seattle for a family trip to the aquarium in early June. At one point during our drive, we stopped at the 4th Avenue and Lenora intersection in the Belltown neighborhood. For us, it was a perfectly enjoyable day — and that brief stop at a red light was as inconsequential as any other. Tragically, that was not the case for another family just one week later. 

On June 14, 34-year-old Eina Kwon and her husband were in the car at that same intersection when a stranger walked up and opened fire. Kwon – who was eight months pregnant – was shot multiple times and died in surgery. Her unborn daughter was delivered in emergency surgery but also died. Kwon’s husband was also shot but survived. The shooting is believed to be random. The suspected shooter is in custody. The couple also have a two-year-old who was not hurt.

This tragedy has shaken me to my core. I am devastated for this family. I am also terrified that this could have just as easily been me and my family as we sat at that same intersection exactly one week earlier. This is not the environment we want to raise our families in, and it cannot be ignored.

I have no doubt that this tragedy and others like it directly result from the failed public safety policies in Seattle and our state and the inadequate attention and investment in our mental health system. I plan to support future legislation to right our criminal justice and mental health systems.

Just last week, Washington state was dealt a serious blow when a judge slapped the state with a $100-million fine for its ongoing failure to properly care for mentally ill individuals who are held for long periods in jails cells awaiting competency evaluations rather than mental health facilities exacerbating a dangerous situation that the state has known it was legally obligated to address for years following the Trueblood ruling.

Also last week, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs issued its annual crime report. The report indicated Washington state just experienced its highest murder rate since the 1980s. The ruling and the crime report are evidence of the unacceptable failed public safety policies of our state which cannot be allowed to continue. This will be a top priority of mine in 2024.

Vehicular pursuits

As I said in my previous update, I remain very concerned with the inadequate policy we passed to restore some of the ability of law enforcement to engage in vehicular pursuits. The bill that was passed leaves law enforcement unable to engage in a pursuit for multiple serious crimes, including: motor vehicle theft, organized retail theft, and residential burglary. While the majority promised to further improve the law when we return for the next session, I have little confidence in that happening. I intend to keep up the pressure to improve the law and fully support legislation that will give our officers the tools they need to keep the public safe.

READ: More on Rep. Hutchins’ concerns with the vehicular pursuit policy here.

Drug Law

As you know, we passed a so-called Blake fix bill in a recent one-day special session. That new law just took effect, and I hope it will lead to a visible difference in the open drug use we have seen on our streets over the past two years and the criminal activity that comes with that. I will be keeping a close eye on how the new law is used in our communities and staying in touch with local law enforcement to see what is working for them and what needs to be improved so I can support further enhancements to the new drug law.

I thank you for taking the time to read this update. It is my honor to serve as your representative, and I know it can seem like we are not getting anywhere, so I want to be sure and fill you in.

I also must continue to hear from each of you about your concerns and what will improve the lives of you and your families and all of our community. So, please reach out anytime.

Contact Rep. Hutchins here.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you!

Spencer Hutchins

State Representative Spencer Hutchins, 26th Legislative District
122D Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7964 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000