The lawsuit was tossed on a technicality, with a district judge determining that a challenge to state law should not be heard by a federal court.
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the legality of a recently passed Washington statute that would increase payroll taxes to fund a controversial long-term care program.
According to The Associated Press, Judge Thomas Zilly of the U.S. Circuit Court for the Western District of Washington found that venue of filing was inappropriate.
Zilly, says The Associated press, explained that—because the increased tax relates to a state law—the federal judiciary does not have jurisdiction.
“The Court is persuaded that the challenged WA Cares premium constitutes a tax, and the Tax Injunction Act drastically limits federal district court jurisdiction to interfere with so important a local concern as the collection of taxes,” Zilly wrote, referencing a 1981 Supreme Court ruling on property taxes.
“Any legal challenge to WA Cares,” he added, “must be brought in state court.”
The Associated Press notes that WA Cares is a “first-in-the-nation” program designed to offset the costs of long-term care.
However, the implementation of the legislation was delayed for nearly 18 months.
The delay, says The A.P., followed criticisms about elements of the underlying law.
Opponents of WA Cares had also raised concerns about its solvency, as 470,000 Washington workers—an estimated 13% of the state’s workforce—had already opted out of participation in the program.
The implementation of the program is now delayed until at least July 2023, while benefits will not be accessible to workers until at least July 2026.
If and when WA Cares takes effect, it will levy a tax of approximately 0.58% of total pay per paycheck.
The program would provide workers with benefits including in-home care, home modifications such as wheelchair ramps, and rideshare services to and from physicians’ offices, with lifetime benefits capped at $36,500.
Attorney Richard Birmingham, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP—the firm that filed the lawsuit against WA Cares—told The Associated Press in an email that any further litigation will likely be reserved until July 2023, to see what action future state legislatures might take on the law.
Nevertheless, Ben Veghte, the director of WA Cares, told The Associated Press that the program is poised for success.
“After key improvements to WA Cares during this year’s legislative session, the program is set up for success in the long term,” he said. “This decision is another step toward making long-term care accessible for all Washingtonians and setting an example for the rest of the nation to follow.”