Op-Ed: Message to Olympia: Pay attention to the reality of people’s lives
Recently, I stopped by to visit with some friends who own a business in the construction industry. This is an industry that has lost more than 48,000 jobs since 2007. Many in this line of work, including my friends, are fighting to stay afloat.
The day I was there, one of the owners was looking glum, so I asked him, “what's up?”
He replied, “This morning, we had to make a decision. We had already recently gone through a big round of layoffs, which was very difficult for our company, which has been in business for more than 30 years. And now with more challenges ahead, we were either going to have to lay off more employees or everybody in the company would have to take a pay cut. The decision was put in the hands of the employees, and by secret ballot, they voted unanimously to take a pay cut.”
This is the reality of what employers and employees are struggling with in every corner of our state as Washingtonians grapple to survive one of the most difficult recessions in years.
More than 330,000 people in Washington are out of work — nearly 5,500 jobless in Skagit County. And yet, politicians and bureaucrats in Olympia continue with business as usual, completely ignoring what is happening in the lives of real people beyond the Capitol campus.
Last week, knowing full well it could affect the survival of small businesses – which are the backbone of Washington's economy – the state Department of Labor and Industries decided to move ahead with a 7.6 percent increase in workers' compensation payroll taxes in 2010. This is a tax that is paid by both employers and workers. That means smaller paychecks at a time when many workers are already taking pay cuts. Washington is the only state in the nation increasing these taxes.
Three weeks ago, the Washington State Building Code Council voted to implement new energy efficiency mandates that could increase home construction costs by as much as $24,000 per home. Further, the council ignored a legislative committee's request to provide an economic impact statement of the jobs created or lost by the new codes. I expect the mandates will significantly impact construction employment. The committee, of which I am a member, is asking the governor to suspend the new codes. We also will be drafting legislation to stop implementation should the governor take no action.
Gov. Gregoire has also said her “door is open” to those who want to make the case for tax increases. Today, she is scheduled to unveil her supplemental budget proposal for the state. She's doing it several days earlier than normal. Why? Because she is flying this week to the United Nations Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, to make her case and show support for climate change legislation.
Ask anyone who has been out of work for months: Can they afford to pay more taxes? Do we need more regulations to add to the cost of a home? Is job-killing climate change legislation where we should be spending our time and money?
While much of the state's focus has been toward extending benefits to the unemployed, what happens when those benefits eventually run out? Unemployment benefits should not be the only way to help people who are out of a job.
We need to get our priorities straight in Olympia. And the first priority should be to get people working again — not burdening employers, employees and citizens with more taxes and regulations that will hurt jobs and delay economic recovery.
It is time our leaders wake up and pay attention to the realities of the people who live well beyond the marbled walls of the Capitol.
EDITOR'S NOTE: State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or e-mail him and sign up for his e-newsletter at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.