If you are investing for your newborn’s college education or even for that retirement that’s still a few decades away, you’re going to be in the stock market.
Odds are, that’s where your money will generate the highest rates of return.
So why would you keep a state trust fund that is designed to assist senior citizens in need from reaping the same investment income?
That’s the question Senate Joint Resolution No. 8212 presents to Washington voters.
The answer is obvious, isn’t it?
Vote yes and pass this amendment to Washington’s state constitution.
SJR 8212 is in the nature of a housekeeping measure that refines the more substantial policy change.
A year ago, Washington Democrats pushed through the Long-Term Care Services and Supports Trust Program. This first-in-the nation effort was promoted by Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, who now serves as House speaker.
It created a benefit funded through a payroll tax to help seniors obtain long-term care they would otherwise not secure until, by draining their assets, they can access Medicaid.
It’s estimated 70 percent of people 65 years old and older will need some kind of help, but only 10 percent have some kind of insurance to pay for it.
The payroll tax is set at 58 cents per $100 of income. It begins in 2022.
The benefit is set at $36,500 at today’s dollars. It takes effect in 2025. To qualify, a worker must have paid premiums for three of the past six years or during a period of 10 years in which five years were uninterrupted.
Jinkins argued that the benefit is not insignificant, especially if it can help compensate the 800,000 unpaid family caregivers who are enabling their relatives to continue living in their homes.
Aside from that, the money can be used for such things as equipment in the home or home-delivered meals.
The stipend will provide up to five years of bringing someone periodically into the senior’s home to provide the primary caregiver with a respite. It could buy up to a year of assisted living care, as much as eight months of adult family home care and up to six months at a skilled nursing facility.
That measure cleared the House on a party-line 55-41 vote. Reps. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, and Joe Schmick R-Colfax, voted no
The Senate passed it by a margin of 26-22 with one Republican voting for it and three Democrats voting no. Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, voted no.
Once Gov. Jay Inslee signed the measure into law, however, a bipartisan coalition formed to give trust fund managers more flexibility.
The current constitutional amendment easily cleared the required two-thirds margin in each chamber — 45-to-3 in the Senate where Schoesler was a co-sponsor and 96-1 in the House, where Dye and Schmick voted yes.
The argument is straightforward. Washington’s constitution prohibits the investment of such trust funds in equities. But limited to federal, state and municipal bonds, the fund could expect an average rate of return of no more than 5 or 6 percent. The average return on stocks is 10 percent.
Critics of this measure note the stock market is far more volatile. In recent memory, the market tanked by a third during the dot.com bust of 2000-03, by half during the crash of 2008-09 and more than 37 percent earlier this spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But a trust fund is not in the market for short-term gains and over time stocks tend to rise.
Moreover, no new precedent is being set here.
Three times, lawmakers have proposed — by two-thirds majorities — and voters have approved constitutional amendments that allowed state fund managers to break free from the constitutional restraints:
l 1968 — Public employee pension funds. It passed by 72 percent.
l 1985 — Worker compensation funds. It passed by 71 percent.
l 2000 — The trust held for people with developmental disabilities. It passed by 65 percent.
Given that authority, the Washington State Investment Board has spread assets across a portfolio that includes real estate, fixed assets and stocks. During the past 10 years, it has averaged a 9.35 percent rate of return.
Why should the Long-Term Care Services and Supports Trust settle for less? — M.T.