Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2019 session ended April 28 after a marathon weekend where the majority party kept us on the House floor for as many as 21 consecutive hours while they brought out a lengthy list of tax increases in the dead of night for votes. It was a difficult session for taxpayers, because over that weekend, the House and Senate majority approved the following tax increases:
Three of these tax increases are most likely of particular interest to dentists and dental providers:
- House Bill 2158 imposes a new 20 percent business and occupation (B&O) tax on services, including “the independent practice of general or specialized dentistry or dental surgery.”
- Senate Bill 5998 imposes a graduated real estate excise tax on all properties.
- House Bill 1087 imposes a $1 billion annual payroll tax on every worker in the state to fund the creation of a Long-Term Services and Support entitlement program.
I voted against the tax increases, especially considering the fact we had a $2.8 billion surplus going into the 2019 session in January. The good news is that the majority party decided not to move forward with a capital gains tax.
The legislative-approved 2019-21 operating budget spends about $52.5 billion — a $7.8 billion increase from our current 2017-19 budget.
The operating budget also provided $29.4 million to backfill dental Medicaid. In 2017, the Legislature authorized dental Medicaid to be contracted out, assuming there would be savings, which was inaccurate. This year, a proviso was added in the budget to prevent the contract and backfill the savings assumed in previous years.
Here's how it reads in the budget bill: “The authority must provide these services through fee-for-service and may not proceed with either a carved-out or carved-in managed care dental option. Any contracts that have been procured or that are in the process of being procured shall not be entered into or implemented.”
The Health Care Authority will continue to administer dental Medicaid.
In addition, the operating budget provides one-time funding to the University of Washington School of Dentistry, This includes $1 million in each of the next two years to help increase access to Medicaid and care for uncompensated patients and help fund the costs of providing that care, plus $250,000 in each year for direct support of the UW's Dental Education in Care of Persons with Disabilities (DECOD) program, which provides care for the most vulnerable patients.
Another bill of interest is House Bill 1317, which would have established the profession of a dental therapist. This bill, which has been supported by the Washington State Hygiene Association, gained some traction this year because The Center for Medicare and Medicaid declined funding to tribes for the three dental therapists they employ on tribal land. Fortunately, this measure died. However, there was a proviso added in the budget for $6.6 million for tribes to pay for the three dental therapists, as well as up to 10 in future years.
Thank you for your emails, calls and letters to my office. I work for you and my 26th District constituents throughout the year. Feel free to continue contacting my office if you have questions, concerns or suggestions relating to legislation and state government. It is an honor to serve you!