OPINION EDITORIAL: Washington Legislature could do a much better job of fostering job creation in our state
One of my goals as your state representative has been helping Washington employers create jobs. When people are working, it is a win-win situation for all. By spending and investing their wages in our economy, Washington workers are not only improving their lives and helping their families, but providing the tax revenue that pays for K-12 education and other state-funded services.
We have been fortunate that unemployment in King and Snohomish counties has hovered around 3 percent since the end of the Great Recession. That better economy has helped to bring in additional state revenue — more than $3 billion this year. Unfortunately, that's not the story across the state. Eleven Washington counties have high unemployment rates. Rural and coastal communities, in particular, are struggling. For the first time in eight years, the Department of Employment Security reports the state's jobless rate has increased, growing to 4.6 percent in August.
I'm proud of legislation we passed to allow limited development along the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad in Clark County and short-line rail in Okanogan County. This bill could bring as many as 7,300 jobs to Clark County. However, my original measure, House Bill 1504, would have created even more jobs, not only in Clark County, but adjacent to all Eastern Washington short-line railroads. Unfortunately, Gov. Jay Inslee, who said in his campaigns, “My top priority is job creation,” vetoed this job-creating bill. It was only through intensive negotiations that we passed the slimmed-down version and gained his signature.
Instead of being, as he promised, “focused like a laser beam on jobs,” it seems as if Gov. Inslee and legislative Democrats were determined to target employers. The governor vetoed an agreed-to section of a bill that would have reduced the business and occupation (B&O) tax rate by 40 percent for some 10,000 manufacturing firms across the state. This would have created many more Washington jobs.
Although blocked by Republicans, legislative Democrats sought to increase B&O tax rates by 20 percent on service, wholesale, retail and manufacturing, as well as a new capital gains income tax, and increase the real estate excise tax. The biggest job killer against Clark County was a proposal to end the non-resident sales tax exemption, which attracts Oregon shoppers. The governor even sought a carbon tax against employers.
The Legislature also passed, and I also voted against, a mandated paid family leave program. Our small businesses already contend with the highest minimum wage in the country, paid sick leave, skyrocketing health care premiums, along with a B&O tax on gross receipts even if no profit is made. This new socialist program adds another nail to the small business coffin in Washington state.
The final straw is the refusal of the House majority party to pass a Hirst fix. The state Supreme Court's Hirst decision, which is stopping landowners with undeveloped properties from drilling a well, could be one of the most significant blows to our state's construction industry. The governor complains Republicans didn't pass a capital budget. But this $4 billion construction budget will pale in comparison to lost construction jobs from the Hirst decision.
Washington's business climate has become so hostile that even Amazon, which has enjoyed massive growth in Seattle, is now searching for another city to build a second headquarters. Remember when Boeing moved its headquarters to Chicago? While these large corporations gain newspaper print, we rarely hear about many struggling “Mom and Pop” small businesses that finally closed their doors because they couldn't compete against additional stifling government regulations and taxes.
Washingtonians are some of the smartest, most talented and most dedicated workers in the nation. We should not be killing jobs that support them.
Ronald Reagan said government should “work with us, not over us; stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it.”
Rather than adopting job-killing programs and regulations that make it harder to do business in Washington, the Legislature needs to focus on solutions that will provide long-term economic growth in all parts of our state, sustain a vibrant middle class, and create family-wage jobs. We can and must do better!
Editor's note: Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, serves the 18th Legislative District, is a small business owner, and a member of the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee.