Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The economic statistic we often hear about the most is the unemployment rate. Our state's unemployment rate currently stands at 7 percent, while the national unemployment rate is 7.6 percent. In Skagit County, it is 8.3 percent. What doesn't get as much attention is the number of people who are underemployed or fearful that they could lose their jobs. You can imagine what this collective uncertainty does to individuals and families, including their budgets. When consumers don't have confidence, they don't spend money. And this has repercussions for our economy, including business investment, job growth and tax collections.
It's frustrating when some people in Olympia continue to blame Wall Street for all of Main Street's problems. I'm not defending big banks. Some of them played a major role in our economic downturn. But instead of looking outward to the east coast to assign blame, state lawmakers should be looking inward at our state's business climate. What is within our control to address as a state? In my opinion, a lot.
When you analyze our state's disadvantages, you see that our employers face an expensive workers' compensation insurance system, costly and time-consuming permitting processes, a bureaucratic maze, an avalanche of new rules and regulations each year, and the constant threat of new tax increases. But I don't have to tell many of you this because you are living it. None of these problems involve Wall Street and all of them can be addressed at the state level.
As the Legislature begins its second special session this year, all the focus is on the operating budget. In short, the governor and Democrats want to raise taxes. Republicans and moderate Democrats do not. What's been lost in this important debate is how to increase revenue. When the state faces a budget shortfall, the default position of too many people in Olympia is to raise taxes or create new taxes. Why isn't there a greater emphasis on economic growth and increasing existing revenue streams? The governor ran on this platform and then quickly stepped off of it when he was elected. If as much attention was paid to addressing the economic problems outlined above as was given to various tax-increase proposals, we could find bipartisan solutions that would benefit everyone. It would be a win-win for those on the right who want families to prosper in a stronger economy and for those on the left who want to make sure their favorite government services and programs are adequately funded.
The Legislature still has a long way to go to change its collective mentality on this issue and chambers of commerce can play an important role in educating state lawmakers.
Here are three bills that might be of interest to you. I voted for all of them and they had strong bipartisan support:
- House Bill 1394 authorizes the Employment Security Department to enter into settlement agreements with employers for less than the amount of taxes, interest, or penalties due when it would be against equity and good conscience to demand the full amount.
- House Bill 1396 makes changes to the shared work program consistent with 2012 federal legislation. It also provides that shared work benefits reimbursed by the federal government are not charged to employers for a three-year period.
- Senate Bill 5227 provides that the services of corporate officers are not considered services in employment for unemployment compensation purposes, unless the corporation elects to cover its officers.
In your service,