Legislative Insight

 

Legislative updates will be posted regularly during the legislative session and throughout the interim as conditions warrant.

To sign up for legislative alerts, please send your name and email address to peter@wssra.org.

 

 
 

May 11, 2021

We are waiting on Governor Inslee to sign legislation. Once that is complete the WSSRA end of session bill report will be made available. 

Week 15 (Final) Legislative Session Update

April 24, 2021

The 2021-2023 state budget has been released. We are completing our analysis of the 1,102 page document. Here is our initial take on the contents of the budget:

1. Maintains the $183 Medicare Benefit.
2. Makes the actuarially recommended pension payment.
3. No Plan 1 COLA.
4. Appropriates $800 million to the TRS 1 unfunded liability, to be paid in June 30, 2023.
5. Initiates a study to analyze a one-time PEBB open enrollment period for retirees locked out of PEBB insurance (HB 1040).

We are disappointed there was no Plan 1 COLA funded in the budget; however, the $800 million dollar payment to the Plan 1 unfunded liability is a major political achievement for retirees. The chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee has indicated this payment is the first of several installments to pay off the plan underfunding, and thereby set Plan 1 retirees up for an automatic COLA in the future.

Senior citizen legislation we have been following to reduce prescription drug costs (SB 5203), increase legal protections for nursing home residents (HB 1218), reduce property taxes for seniors (HB 1438), protect pension credits from coronavirus furloughs (SB 5021), and expand high-speed internet across the state (HB 1336) have all passed. Governor Inslee must sign them before they can become law.

Week 14 Legislative Session Update

April 16, 2021

Today WSSRA sent this urgent Plan 1 COLA message to members:
To: All Legislative ContactsApril 16, 2021

Dear WSSRA Member:

State appropriators have announced they are on schedule to complete budget negotiations this Monday (4/19). This is retirees' last chance to influence the budget process. Your voice can still be heard if you write today. Next week is too late.

The House and Senate are at odds over retiree benefits. The Senate would like to make an $800 million payment to the TRS 1 unfunded liability in 2023. The House countered with $14 million for a $22 per month plan 1 COLA -- 1.5% on the first $17,600 in income. A best case outcome would include both proposals, but it is highly possible both proposals could be cut from the final budget agreement.

The Plan 1 COLA requires accompanying legislation -- HB 1565. Appropriations Chair Ormsby has not scheduled the COLA legislation. We are extremely concerned this lack of scheduling indicates a lack of interest in retirees' needs.

Now is the time. If you want a COLA or are concerned about Plan 1, please contact your legislators as soon as you get this email.
A sample letter is pasted below.

_________________

Dear Representative / Senator "X",

My name is "X". I am one of your constituents. I retired in "X" after working "X" years, mostly in the "X" school district.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many economic challenges for Washingtonians, as they are left to wonder how they will make ends meet. This is especially true for retirees, whose Plan 1 cost of living adjustment serves as a critical support to help meet basic needs, including medical, food, and housing expenses.

The House budget proposal changes Plan 1 policy and includes a Plan 1 COLA at 1.5% on the first $17,600 per month. In recent years the Legislature's Select Committee on Pension Policy has recommended COLAs on the first $25,000 in income. The House's reduced cap will short me an additional $9.25 per month. I cannot support another degradation of my income. It is unfair and counter to previously established precedent.

Additionally, the House of Representatives has not even scheduled a public hearing for Plan 1 COLA legislation. The agenda has been set for next week's appropriations meetings, and the COLA bill -- HB 1565 -- is not scheduled to move out of committee. I take this as a sign that I am once again a low priority for the legislature.

In a budget year with unprecedented Federal dollars and a state revenue picture that continues to exceed expectations, seniors like I and other retied educators need help. If you care about your constituents, you will urge Chair Ormsby to have a hearing and move HB 1565 out committee to be included in the budget. Additionally, you need to amend HB 1565 so it provides a Plan 1 COLA worth having.

Sincerely,

"X"

"Address"

Week 13 Legislative Session Update

April 9, 2021

There are sixteen days left in the 2021 Legislative Session. In order to avoid a special session, legislators mush finish their work by midnight on 4/25.

Both the House and Senate have agreed to keep the $183 retiree medical benefit and make the actuarially recommended pension payment -- great news!

The House of Representatives wants to pay $14 million for a $22 per month plan 1 COLA. We are asking legislators to make it a better COLA.

The Senate would like to pay an additional $800 million to pay down the unfunded liability in TRS 1. That would make Plan 1 more stable and help Plan 1 retirees get a recurring COLA in the future.

The Governor has signed SB 5021 to backpay any school employee pension credits lost to Covid-19 furloughs. This will help -- mostly furloughed classified employees -- achieve retirement security.

The House and Senate have both passed Senate Bill 5203 to lower the cost of prescription drugs. The bill was amended by the House, so the Senate will need to concur with changes or set up a conference committee.

Week 12 Legislative Session Update

April 5, 2021

Legislators are entering the final phase of the legislative session. Committee work is done and members are on the Floor of the House and Senate voting on legislation from the opposite chamber. Both chambers have produced their budget proposals, and now budget writers are negotiating a compromise. There are 20 days left for legislators to get their work done.

We will be asking the WSSRA membership to contact their legislators about the budget. A copy of that message is below.
_______________________________________

To: All WSSRA Legislative Contacts

April 5, 2021

Dear WSSRA Member:

With three weeks remaining in session, we need your help. It's important for all our members to contact their legislators. A sample letter is below.

The Washington State Senate and Washington State House of Representatives have released their 2021-2023 budget proposals. The first bit is good news. Both proposals keep the $183 Medicare Eligible Healthcare Benefit -- available to retirees in all pension plans -- and make the actuarially recommended pension payment. However, the House and Senate differ on what to do about Plan 1. If you're in PERS or TRS 1, you need to contact your legislator in order to get the best deal possible out of this budget.

First, the Senate budget proposal would make a critical $800 million investment in TRS Plan 1. Currently, the state actuary is only 66% confident there are enough resources in the Plan 1 fund to pay all pension claims. The Senate hopes to add $800 million in June of 2023 to TRS 1 to shore up the plan's finances. The investment would save money for the state and schools and make future Plan 1 COLAs more affordable and easier to obtain.

The House budget proposal would spend $14 million to offer a Plan 1 Cost of Living Adjustment of up to $22 per month. It would provide a 1.5% increase on the first $17,600 in pension income. Previous one-time COLA's have provided an increased benefit on the first $25,000 in pension income. Lowering the cap is an unwelcome development and would set a bad new precedent for future increases. Maintaining the previous cap ($25,000) would add $9.25 per month to the increase.

You should thank Senators for their work on the Plan 1 unfunded liability but also encourage them to adopt a COLA with the $25,000 cap. House members should be asked to improve their COLA proposal and provide additional funds for the Plan 1 unfunded liability.

A sample letter you may use is below.

SAMPLE MESSAGE TO LEGISLATOR

Dear Representative / Senator (X),

My name is "X". I am one of your constituents. I retired in "X" after working "X" years, mostly in the "X" school district. I enjoyed my career but now living on a fixed income is a hardship. Living in the pandemic has caused a whole host of new challenges.

First, thank you, and your colleagues, for continuing to fund the retiree health benefit in your budget proposal. I was relieved to see it there.

I was pleased to see the House budget proposal include money for Plan 1 retirees. As you may know, my pension has lost significant purchasing power due to inflation. Please hold firm in budget negotiations and include a Plan 1 COLA in the final budget.

That said, I was disappointed by the small nature of the House COLA proposal (HB 1565). Previous COLAs have offered a COLA on the first $25,000 in pension income. HB 1565 caps the increase to the first $17,600 which translates to $22 per month. This decreases the COLA by $9.25 per month. With billions in the new revenue and the billions saved by not paying a regular Plan 1 COLA, I don't understand why I am once again being nickel-and-dimed when I have already lost so much. Please fix this oversight and at least make the COLA proposal similar to previous adjustments.

The Senate budget proposal also included money for Plan 1 retirees to be spent in June of 2023. It included $800 million to address the unfunded liability in TRS Plan 1. I commend the Senate for this. It is a perfect use for one-time money. Not paying down the Plan 1 unfunded liability with the state's current surplus would be an incredible lost opportunity.

TRS 1 and PERS 1 are the only pension systems that are chronically underfunded, do not include a Cost of Living Adjustment, and are majority female. The male dominated plans from the same era are over 130% funded and include an annual, uncapped Cost of Living Adjustment. Granting a COLA and paying down the Plan 1 unfunded liability are important steps towards addressing gender equity in the state's retirement systems and meeting the needs of low-income retirees who are struggling.

My best,

(Signature)

Week 11 Legislative Session Update -- REVISED 3/30/21

The House and Senate have released their budget proposals. Both budgets make the actuarially recommended pension payment and maintain the $183 Medicare Eligible Healthcare Benefit.

The Senate budget proposal makes a massive investment in TRS Plan 1. Senators want to take $800 million from the general fund and use that money to pay down the unfunded liability in Plan 1. This action would save the state money in future budgets, and would make future Plan 1 cost-of-living adjustments substantially cheaper.

The House budget would provide a 1.5% Cost of Living Adjustment to Plan 1 retirees, but no additional payments to the unfunded pension liability. 

Feel free to use this template if you would like to contact your legislators:

Dear Senator/Representative "X",

You clearly have been busy this week with committee hearings and the release of the proposed budgets. Thank you for this hard work.

Speaking of budgets, thank you, and your colleagues, for continuing to fund the health insurance benefit for retirees. I appreciated your continued support of this benefit.

There were some differences between the budgets. The Senate budget included $800 million to address the unfunded liability of TRS Plan 1 which will save money for the state and school districts. The House budget did not address this. The House budget approved an amendment to grant a one-time 1.5% COLA for TRS/PERS Plan 1 retirees and introduced HB 1565 to implement this modest increase. The Senate had no such provision. 

Please support the modest COLA proposal and HB 1565. I also think it very wise to retire the unfunded liability in TRS 1 soon. The Senate proposal helps to do that using General Fund dollars that are replay one-time Federal dollars. Both of these issues can be part of the negotiated reconciliation that is yet to come. 

At any rate, I appreciate what has been proposed so far. I look forward to seeing these proposals enacted.

My best.

Signature

Week 11 Legislative Session Update -- Part 1

March 25, 2021

The Washington State House and Senate are both scheduled to release their budge proposals this weekend. This page will be updated with new information on Monday (3/29).

There is some good news on legislation. Senate Bill 5021 to ensure Covid-19 related work furloughs do not affect pension credits has passed both the Senate and the House. Governor Inslee is expected to sign this bill. Other legislation regarding prescription drugs, the senior property tax exemption, internet access, and long-term-care is moving through the system at a good clip -- more on that in a few days.

Since the state's budget situation improved last week, your WSSRA political team has been requesting money for Plan 1 retirees. Some budget writers are keen on using some funds to pay down the unfunded liability -- we'll be working on that for the remainder of the session. Again, we will find out soon if our labor will bear any budget fruit. 

Week 10 Legislative Session Update

March 19, 2021

This week has seen a major turn of events for the legislature. The tax revenue forecast has increased by over $3 billion an the general fund is set to receive over $4 billion in federal stimulus money. Local governments and school districts are also scheduled to get bailouts.

This good fortune has brought new opportunities. The federal money has a prohibition on it being used for pensions, but no such limitation exists on the state money. WSSRA has asked legislative leaders to use state funds for a Plan 1 COLA and an extra payment to the Plan 1 unfunded liability.

The senior coalition bills we've been supporting are moving along nicely. All are either out of committee or are scheduled for committee action in the next seven days. Here is theor status: 

SB 5021 (Furloughs) - House Rules Commitee; passed House policy comittees; passed Senate.

SB 5203 (Generic Prescription Drugs) - Public Hearing 3/24 in the Senate Health Committee; passed Senate.

HB 1218 (Long-Term-Care) - Public Hearing 3/22 in Senate Health Committee; Passed Senate. 

HB 1438 (Senior Property Tax Exemption) - Passed policy committees; being sent to Senate Rules Committee; passed House. 

HB 1336 (Broadband) - Scheduled for a committee vote on 3/24; passed Senate. 

For bill details, please scroll down to last week's report. 

Week 9 Legislative Session Update

March 12, 2021

Another week, another deadline. Last Tuesday was the cutoff for Floor votes. Now the House and Senate are considering bills passed over from their opposite chamber.

House Bill 1460 -- a large AARP backed internet bill -- failed to get a vote by the full House. So that bill is now in the dust bin.
Senate Bill 5203 to lower generic prescription drug costs has a hearing in the House Health Committee on Thursday 3/18. House Bill 1438 to expand the senior property tax exemption has a public hearing Monday 3/15 in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

On the Thursday 3/17 the Economic & Revenue Forecast Council will give an update on the state budget and tax revenue collections. We will gain some clarity on the state's budget condition. State attorneys are also pouring over the federal stimulus bill -- a large contribution to the state budget is anticipated.

WSSRA is currently supporting five bills. A memo to our legislaitve team is pasted below if your would like to read more about them:

MEMORANDUM

TO: WSSRA Legislative Committee

FROM: Peter Diedrick

DATE: March 11, 2021

SUBJECT: WSSRA Coalition Bills to Support.

WSSRA’s HB 1032 and HB 1040 failed to move out the House Appropriations Committee prior to deadline cutoffs – they are dead for the session. Retirees should continue lobbying appropriators for the $183 Medicare Eligible Healthcare Benefit and actuarially recommended pension payment. There are other worthy legislative proposals from AARP-Washington and the Department of Retirement Systems. It would be valuable for school retirees to support HB 1218, SB 5021, HB 1438, HB 1336, and SB 5203.

 

House Bill 1218 creates new legal rights for long-term-care (LTC) patients. The bill allows patients to have daily access to one outside caretaker or family member. It also creates an obligation for LTC facilities to provide phone access to patients when requested. Finally, it obligates LTC facilities to have disaster preparedness plans, stock personal protective equipment, notify the public if DSHS places a stop placement order on their facility, and to keep an accurate log of patients to be provided to the state officials upon request. HB 1218 has passed the House.

Senate Bill 5021 ensures public school employees do not see pension credit reductions related to Covid-19 work furloughs. SB 5021 has passed the Senate.

House Bill 1438 expands the senior property tax exemption. Currently, low-income seniors can defer, freeze, or be exempted out of property tax payments. HB 1438 would allow retirees to deduct health expenses – including co-pays and premiums – to qualify for the tax reduction. HB 1438 has passed the House.

House Bill 1336 expands high-speed internet access by allowing small cities, port districts, and counties to regulate internet services as a public utility. This bill does not affect large cities – the courts have ruled that larger cities already had the legal authority to manage internet as a utility. HB 1336 has passe the House.

Senate Bill 5203 would lower the price of generic prescription drugs by ordering PEBB, SEBB, and Medicaid to participate in multi-state bulk ordering agreements – like the way vaccines are purchased. Private insurers and providers would be allowed, but not required to participate in the program. SB 5203 has passed the Senate. 

Week 8 Legislative Session Update

March 5, 2021

Legislators have been taking floor votes all week. With a successful floor vote by the full chamber, bills can be considered by the opposite chamber. Several senior and retiree friendly bills have advanced. The deadline for floor action is 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 9.


House Bill 1218 to create a long-term-care patients' bill of rights, HB 1438 to expand the senior citizens property tax, and HB 1336 to treat broadband as public utility have all passed the House of Representatives. Senate Bill 5021 to limit pension reductions from Covid-19 furloughs and SB 5203 to allow the state to bulk purchase generic prescription drugs have both passed the Senate.


We are still waiting to see if HB 1460 -- creating new broadband programs for seniors -- will pass out of the House.

Week 7 Legislative Session Update

February 26, 2021

The two bills WSSRA sponsored both died in committee this week. We are proposing the assocition support other bills that have a better chance passing. The memo to the state WSSRA Legislaive Committee has been pasted here for your viewing:

MEMORANDUM

TO: WSSRA Legislative Committee

FROM: Peter Diedrick

DATE: February 26, 2021

SUBJECT: WSSRA Coalition Bills to Support.

WSSRA’s HB 1032 and HB 1040 failed to move out the House Appropriations Committee prior to deadline cutoffs – they are dead for the session. Retirees should continue lobbying appropriators for the $183 Medicare Eligible Healthcare Benefit and actuarially recommended pension payment. There are other worthy legislative proposals from AARP-Washington and the Department of Retirement Systems. It would be valuable for school retirees to support HB 1218, SB 5021, HB 1438, HB 1460, and SB 5203.

House Bill 1218 creates new legal rights for long-term-care (LTC) patients. The bill allows patients to have daily access to one outside caretaker or family member. It also creates an obligation for LTC facilities to provide phone access to patients when requested. Finally, it obligates LTC facilities to have disaster preparedness plans, stock personal protective equipment, notify the public if DSHS places a stop placement order on their facility, and to keep an accurate log of patients to be provided to the state officials upon request. HB 1218 has passed the House.

Senate Bill 5021 ensures public school employees do not see pension credit reductions related to Covid-19 work furloughs. SB 5021 has passed the Senate.

House Bill 1438 expands the senior property tax exemption. Currently, low-income seniors can defer, freeze, or be exempted out of property tax payments. HB 1438 would allow retirees to deduct health expenses – including co-pays and premiums – to qualify for the tax reduction. HB 1438 is in the House Rules Committee.

House Bill 1460 creates new broadband internet and cell services programs for seniors and the economically disadvantaged. New programs include a daily call or check-in service for elderly people living alone, reduced monthly telecommunications fees for older low-income people, reduced broadband fees for schools, libraries, and public computer labs, and grant programs for establishing high-speed internet in rural and low-income areas. It would accomplish these goals by assessing a monthly 25-cent tax on phone lines and internet connections. HB 1460 is in the House Rules Committee.

Senate Bill 5203 would lower the price of generic prescription drugs by ordering PEBB, SEBB, and Medicaid to participate in multi-state bulk ordering agreements – like the way vaccines are purchased. Private insurers and providers would be allowed, but not required to participate in the program. SB 5203 has cleared the Senate Rules Committee and is ready for a vote by the full chamber.

 

Week 6 Legislative Session Update

February 19, 2021

Two important bills moved to the House and Senate floors this week.


House Bill 1218 creates a senior's bill of rights for long-term-care (LTC) patients. It would allow people in LTC settings the right to have regular contact with one outside family member or caregiver. This bill is now on the House Floor and ready to be considered by the full body.


Senate Bill 5021 will protect pension retirement credits for school employees who was furloughed during the coronavirus pandemic. SB 5021 is ready for consideration by the full Senate. After passage, HB 1218 will be sent to the Senate and SB 5021 will be sent to the House.

WSSRA's top priorities will be settled in the budget -- due out in March. We continue to receive poisitive feedback about maintaining the $183 Medicare Eligilbe Healthcare Benefit. Legislators also appear to be on track for making the required pension payments. 

Week 5 Legislative Session Update

February 12, 2021

Legislators are approaching their first set of deadlines. Bills must be out of their respective committees by February 15. The legislature’s financial committees need to clear bills out of their committees by February 22.


It appears that HB 1032 – allowing for early retirement benefits during the coronavirus crisis – will die in the House Appropriations Committee. HB 1040 to open a window for retirees currently locked out of PEBB insurance will suffer a similar fate. It is unfortunate – they were good bills.


This week’s big legislative news came out of the Senate Republican Caucus. Lynda Wilson, the Senate Republican budget lead, sponsored a her caucus’ vision of what the 2021-2023 state budget should look like. The good news for retirees is that Republicans are advocating for keeping the Medicare Eligible Healthcare Benefit stable at $183 per month. This move was followed by Senator Schoesler (R-Ritzville) sponsoring a bill to merge pension funds for the Teachers Retirement System Plan 1 and Law Enforcement Officers & Fire Fighters Plan 1. Currently TRS 1 is underfunded and LEOFF 1 is overfunded. WSSRA will be watching the budget committees closely to see if Democrats incorporate these ideas into their own work.

Week 4 Legislative Session Update

February 6, 2021

There has not been much movement on WSSRA's priority legislation. House Bill 1032 -- reducing early retirement penalties during the Covid-19 crisis -- is stuck in the House Appropriations Committee. House Bill 1040 -- reopening PEBB retiree insurance to certain retirees -- is suffering a similar fate.


The Medicare Eligible Healthcare Benefit and the employer portion of the state's pension benefit are managed through the state budget. Additional information will be available in March.


There is some very good senior citizen legislation moving forward. House Bill 1218 will require nursing homes to keep adequate supplies of personal protective equipment on-hand. HB 1218 is scheduled to move out of the House Healthcare committee on February 10th.


Senate Bill 5203 will allow the state to participate in bulk purchasing contracts for generic prescription drugs, thereby lowering the cost of drugs for Washington residents. SB 5203 passed out the Senate Healthcare Committee and was sent to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for review by appropriators.


Senate Bill 5021 is designed to ensure coronavirus related work furloughs for school employees do not affect their future pension benefits. SB 5021 passed a vote in the Senate Ways & Means Committee has been moved the Senate Rules Committee, where it can become eligible for a vote by the full Senate.

Week 3 Legislative Session Update

January 29, 2021

A big thank you to our State Legislative Committee Members. Our advocacy team spent the week on Zoom and met with legislators about school retiree benefits. The feedback we heard was good: despite the recession, legislators are keen on protecting retiree health benefits. WE MUST STAY VIGILANT, but the initial reports are encouraging.


There are a few important bills moving through the committee stage. Senate Bill 5021, a bill ensuring Covid-19 related furloughs do not affect pension benefits, passed out of Senate Ways and Means Committee and has been sent to the Senate Rules Committee -- where leaders can easily bring it to the Senate Floor.


House Bill 1218 would require nursing homes to stock personal protective equipment and have a disaster preparedness plan. HB 1218 bill is scheduled for a vote in the House Healthcare Committee on February 3rd.

Week 2 Legisltive Session Update

January 22, 2021


The WSSRA political team continues to meet with appropriators and advocate for protecting retiree healthcare benefits. The decision on those benefits will be determined in the budget process, probably in February or March.


WSSRA's bills this session are still awaiting hearings in the House Appropriations Committee. Those bills would be HB 1032 -- early retirement during the coronavirus emergency, and HB 1040 -- open enrollment for retirees locked out of PEBB.


Senate Bill 5021 would ensure that coronavirus related furloughs in school districts do not count against defined benefit pensions. It is scheduled for a committee vote in the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday, January 28th.


WSSRA is supporting a series of new bills intended to limit price increases on prescription drugs. Senate Bills 5020, 5075, 5076, & 5203 would allow for the state to conduct bulk purchasing for generic drugs, would penalize drug companies for unnecessary price increases, and would limit pharmacy benefit managers' (pharmaceutical middle men) ability to exclude pharmacies from their networks.

Week 1 Legislative Session Update

January 15, 2021

The Washington State Legislature has convened for the 2021 Legislative Session. As you probably know, this session will look very different. Due to health and security concerns, the majority of the session will be held online.


Executive Director Alan Burke testified twice this week in support of the Governor's 2021-2023 budget proposal. The Governor recommended maintaining the full $183 retiree healthcare benefit, and we appreciate his support.


WSSRA's legislation to reduce early retirement penalties for school employees during Covid-19 (HB 1032) and to reopen PEBB retiree insurance to retirees currently outside PEBB (HB 1040), have both been assigned to the House Appropriations Committee.


The Senate Ways and Means Committee will hold two important hearings this week. On January 18, the committee will review Senate Bill 5021. Many state and school employees were forced to take furloughs over the past six months, and passing SB 5021 will keep furloughed time from affecting retirement calculations. On January 21, the committee will have a public education session on the Washington state pension system. The Department of Retirement Systems and the State Actuary will both be presenting.

Pre-Session Update

January 8, 2021

The 2021 Legislative Session starts this Monday, January 11th.

WSSRA’s agenda is set. The organization is working to protect the actuarially recommended pension payment, maintain the Medicare Eligible Healthcare Benefit, pass a PEBB retiree open enrollment bill for retirees locked out of PEBB, and to pass legislation making it easier for school employees over the age of 60 to retire during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Legislative committee hearings for the 2021 session start on Tuesday. For school retirees, this week’s hearings of note will be the budget committees reviewing the Governor’s budget proposals. WSSRA will sign in and testify in favor of the Governor’s budget because it maintains all current retiree benefits.

All committee hearings will be online this year. If you would like to sign in pro or con, provide written testimony, or provide live testimony, you can use this link:

https://leg.wa.gov/legislature/Pages/Participating.aspx

Pre-Session Update

December 18, 2020

Pre-Session Legislative Update – December 18, 2020

Governor Inslee has released his 2021-2023 budget proposal. The Governor is requesting no changes to retiree benefits – good news in a year with budget problems.

Legislators are having challenges adapting to a digital format. For the foreseeable future, most everything at the state capitol will be handled online. Committee hearings, bill drafting, constituent meetings, and Floor sessions will be digital. Lobbyists and the public have been banned from legislative buildings for the duration of the legislative session. Practice Floor sessions have not gone well. House and Senate leaders are discussing spending as little time as possible in Olympia – get-in, get-out, and get home. Non-emergency legislation will be left for the 2022 Legislative Session.

Pre-Session Update

December 11, 2020

The Washington state budget outlook is still showing deficits, but the situation has improved dramatically. In June, economists expected a $9 billion drop in tax revenue. Appropriators successfully held $3.5 billion in reserve – a tidy sum – but it did not come close to meeting anticipated shortfalls. In the latest tax revenue and budget forecast, economists are expecting a $900 million surplus in the short term, and a $1 billion shortfall over the next four years. Not ideal, but substantially better than in June.

Hidden in the numbers are some bigger challenges. The state incurred some savings this year from reduced school enrollment. For the state’s accountants, that is a win. For school budgets and the well-being of our kids, it is a very bad situation. Therefore, the budget challenge continues to be larger than is shown on paper.

Assume the state has about a $1 billion dollar problem on its hands. There is a $100 million shortfall in the long-term forecast, more than $500 million in emergency needs for schools, approximately $150 million in business aid that been promised by the state, and a depleted unemployment insurance account to manage. The state’s reserve account should cover those needs, but appropriators will be looking to trim the budget where they can. School retirees have benefits that can be cut, and WSSRA should continue to be mindful of the circumstances.  

Pre-Session Update

December 7, 2020

WSSRA’s focus in 2021 will be to protect and maintain current retiree benefits. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a budget crisis for the state of Washington – the subject of next week’s update. The pandemic has led legislative leaders to put strict controls on how much legislation can be sponsored. WSSRA’s political team is expecting the entire session to be focused on the state budget and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The top goal for 2021 is to maintain the Medicare Eligible Healthcare Subsidy. This benefit reduces the cost of Medicare supplemental insurance by 50%, up to $183 per month. Eliminating this benefit would save the state approximately $175 million per fiscal year. Retirees depend on this benefit to balance their budgets – we cannot let it get nipped.

WSSRA’s political team is concerned about the state’s contribution to the pension funds. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the state only made partial payments, leading to today’s underfunded status in TRS 1 and PERS 1. Recent legislative leaders have done a good job of making the full payment level. Unfortunately, freshman legislators have discussed skipping this year’s pension payment to balance the budget. WSSRA strongly opposes such proposals.

Regarding Covid-19, WSSRA is developing emergency legislation to reduce the retirement age for school employees. The proposed legislation would reduce the full retirement age to 60 for employees with 30 years of service credit. For employees over age 60 with 20 to 30 years of service credit, it would reduce the early retirement penalty to 3% of the pension per year – the current penalty is over 8% per year. The legislation would only be in effect while the Governor’s emergency Covid-19 proclamations are active. This legislation is being signed by the prime sponsor and sent to the Code Reviser for pre-filing this week.

Additional health legislation being drafted by WSSRA would allow for a one-time open enrollment period for retirees who opted out of PEBB insurance. The Washington State Healthcare Authority has developed two new statewide retiree health plans, and the WSSRA legislative team feels it would be an appropriate time to allow retirees to re-enter PEBB. This legislation is in the drafting and sponsorship phase.

Work to pursue a Plan 1 COLA and other political goals is ongoing. Due to the budget crisis and rules on what type of legislation can be sponsored in this pandemic session, there is little optimism that non-healthcare related measures will pass.

The next several updates will cover the Washington’s budget crisis, rules regarding this unique Covid-19 legislative session, and the Governor’s Budget – due out before January.

 

Pre-Session Update

September 23, 2020

The 2021 Washington State Legislative Session begins January 11. This year we are working to:

  • Protect Retiree Medical Benefits
  • Ensure legislators make the actuarilly recommended pension payment to the pension funds.
  • Create legislation to protect at-risk teachers from COVID-19.
  • Pursue an automatic COLA for Plan 1 retirees.

WSSRA is very concerned about the state of the state budget. The treasury is currently scheduled to be in a deficit, and we do not want retiree benefits to be a sacrificial lamb in balancing the budget.

 
 

Please view the 2020 Bill Report for a final analysis of the 2019-2020 biennium. 

 

 

To Serve, Not To Be Served