Controversial tax proposal to support public health

VIDEO: Controversial tax proposal to support public health

Just as vaccines were beginning to ship last month, the Public Health Officer for King County voiced a warning.

“We’re facing funding disappearing at the time our challenge is rising to the highest level it’s been since the outbreak began,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin.

A major source of funding for public health districts began disappearing two decades ago. That’s when the very first Eyman $30 car tab initiative passed — eliminating the millions public health districts got from the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax.

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Now at Gov. Jay Inslee’s request, state lawmakers are considering a new tax of $3.25 a month on health insurance policies.

It would take effect in 2023 and collect $143 million in the first year.

State Sen. June Robinson (D-Everett) said, “Our local public health system is hanging on and barely functional. And unfortunately, in 2020, the pandemic has laid that bare for all of us to see.”

This was a conclusion confirmed by Washington’s new Secretary of Health, who said, “A more effective and protected public health system will only be possible with intentional and substantial financial investments.”

Opposition came from the health insurance industry.

“This bill becomes an additional cost onto the shoulders of those who’ve already borne so much this year,” said Danielle Huston of the Washington Association for Health Underwriters.

Opposition also came from unions representing grocery store workers and the construction trades. Their union-based health care plans would have to pass on the extra $39 a year to their members.

“The money of these plans is the deferred compensation of workers. It is a worker’s money,” said Joseph Mizrahi of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21.

But frontline health department workers believe the investment is worth it.

“Pass this bill and stand up our state’s public health systems, so people in the schools and the businesses are better protected from the next pandemic,” said Amy Brakenbury of the Public Health Roundtable.

A recent Crosscut/Elway poll shows nearly 60% of Washington residents oppose the tax.