Real ‘change’ needed for economic recovery in Washington state

In Washington, we are blessed to have some of the most creative and innovative employers in the country. Likewise, our employers are blessed with talented employees who have the intellectual horsepower to help them compete in a global marketplace.

Yet with our successes, there is a troubling trend. Washington state is slipping in its competitiveness and ability to retain and recruit companies – in aerospace and other industry sectors. After reading Peter Callaghan’s column in the Oct. 1 edition of the Tacoma News Tribune (“Gregoire made the state’s case with Boeing, but said ‘no’ to shameless begging”), we want to lay the case out – not beg – for state leaders to consider the message of the addition of even 700 good-paying jobs the Boeing plant could create would send to Washington’s beleaguered workers and employers.

Whenever the Legislature is considering policies that impact employers, the first question we should ask is: Does this create and retain jobs in Washington? While we await Boeing’s decision on where to locate a second Dreamliner production plant, we must keep our focus on all employers and what we can do as a Legislature, and in our agencies, to save and recruit jobs. State leaders must declare with a clear and unified voice, “We want your business here, and we intend to provide the customer service you need from state government to be successful.”

We have a simple philosophy: Vibrant businesses create jobs essential for the well-being of families across the state. Whether large or small, our various employers are cornerstones of communities.

Washington must also put out the welcome mat and invite in new and innovative employers. With an unmatched quality of life, our state should attract the forward-thinking companies that will provide much-needed family-wage jobs while pioneering and producing the technology of the future. But we must be willing to identify barriers to recruitment, examine competitor practices to leverage our strengths and address our weaknesses.

This summer, we met with dozens of employers in Washington struggling under the recession and asked what we can do to help. Repeatedly, the same themes emerged: employers are overwhelmed with the regulatory climate and cost of doing business in Washington. This must be a lesson for Washington’s leaders and agencies to usher in a new culture of change.

With strong leadership, we can begin to restructure state agencies to be customer-focused and less burdensome. What if agencies and leaders, instead of handing down more regulations and higher taxes and fees, asked employers, “What can we do to help you responsibly achieve your goals and create jobs?”

We believe state agencies must embrace meaningful streamlining reforms to serve employers. The state should utilize every tool to encourage job creation, while eliminating unnecessary red tape. Good-paying jobs create local economic security and prosperity.

Additionally, it’s past time to take a long look at barriers Washington puts in front of employers looking to hire more employees. Our unemployment insurance system taxes are the sixth most expensive in the nation. We also levy a unique gross receipts tax on businesses, which taxes them regardless of whether they turn a profit. This tax also disproportionately punishes small employers, making it harder for our economic engine to add employees and grow their operations.

Our workers’ compensation system is also one of the most costly and complex in the nation. It is a national outlier in terms of administrative costs and expensive pensions. Unbelievably, the state Department of Labor and Industries recently proposed a 7.6 percent premium increase for 2010. A tax increase on employers during a difficult recession, to pay for a broken system badly in need of reform, is not sound policy. This will take $117 million out of employers’ and employees’ pockets that could be used to create jobs or increase pay to help offset the rising costs of necessities, such as health care, food and housing.

Washington’s leaders and agencies must begin to address these and other barriers to attracting and retaining employers, including Boeing’s second production plant, right now – by not increasing the costs of doing business and joining entrepreneurs to incentivize job creation. Our economic recovery is at stake.

Tenth Legislative District Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, is the lead Republican on economic development issues. Twelfth Legislative District Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, is the lead Republican on commerce and labor issues.

State Representative Norma Smith, 10th Legislative District
435 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7884 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000