Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Lawmakers starting their legislative session in Olympia should remember the slogan from the first Clinton campaign: "It's the Economy!"
While Washington has been blessed with a strong economy over the last few years, there are signs it is weakening. For legislators, the telltale sign is state revenues slipped below projections late last year. Our state is not immune to the nationwide slowdown.
The state's attitude toward business, reflected in its laws and regulations, often is a deciding factor in whether a company comes here or reinvests in Washington. Here are 10 things your legislators and Gov. Chris Gregoire can do in 2008 to help our business climate and economy.
1) Continue to project the attitude that Washington is a place where businesses should invest and create new jobs. Follow words with actions. That philosophy must be engrained in every level of government and applied to companies ranging in size from Boeing to small family shops.
2) Save as much of the $1.2 billion surplus as possible. State funds are needed to address damage from the December flooding, but unless it is an extreme emergency, the money should go into the bank. Remember, this year's shorter 60-day session is to address policy issues, not fund new state programs.
3) Reject the unions' so-called "worker privacy act." It's a bad bill. Employers refer to it as the "the employer gag rule" because it gives unions the upper hand in workplace organizing. They want to prevent employers from talking to their employees about the effects of unionization. Working people should hear all points of view before deciding whether to unionize.
4) Exempt employers who already provide paid family leave from the new law. While it appears Democrat legislators, in particular, won't repeal the paid family leave law enacted last year, they should spare employers in the public and private sector if they already provide paid leave. At the very least, don't require those employers and working people already covered to pay a new tax for the government mandate.
5) Defer health care changes to 2009 when Gov. Gregoire's Health Insurance Partnership completes its work. Remember the fallout and lessons learned from 1993 when Gov. Lowry and fellow Democrats passed legislation that was to be the prototype for national government-run health care.
6) Don't water down the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) further. Last session, lawmakers pushed the math graduation requirement to 2013. Make sure progress toward the math and science requirement is moving forward.
7) Proceed with caution on global warming legislation. Dealing with climate change encompasses everything from our cars to the power we use to light our homes and businesses, and requires regional, national and international attention. Hasty regulation could devastate our way of life and our economy.
8) Maintain economic incentives, such as the sales tax exemption for manufacturing machinery, equipment, and research and development. They are important in high-cost states like Washington. Studies show they work. Legislators should consider similar incentives for renewable energy and inner city revitalization. At the very least, don't toss out the ones that are working, especially as the economy weakens. That's when we need them the most.
9) Address key transportation projects to improve safety and reduce congestion. We need to replace old ferries and bridges such as the SR 520 floating bridge in Seattle and the I-5 crossing between Vancouver and Portland.
10) Approve water storage and conservation incentives. Water will drive Washington's future as much as energy and transportation.
Finally, while the 2008 session may be even shorter than the scheduled 60 days, lots of bad things can happen. The key question our elected officials in Olympia must ask on every piece of legislation is, "Will this bill hurt the economy?" Will it drive jobs and investments, or will it be another cost that will make companies question why they should do business in Washington?
Don C. Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business.