As our state climbs out of a recession, there's common language among lawmakers in Olympia. Everyone seems interested in bringing about...
AS our state climbs out of a recession, there’s common language among lawmakers in Olympia. Everyone seems interested in bringing about a strong and stable economic recovery for Washington. We are beginning to put people back to work, but families are still concerned about job security and restoring personal income to pre-9/11 levels.
The Legislature’s job-creation efforts over the next few weeks will have long-term implications for our state economy and the prosperity of families for the next decade or more. That’s why we’re concerned that members of the majority party in Olympia are paying lip service to job growth while failing to back it up with meaningful legislation. The reality of this session simply doesn’t live up to the rhetoric.
Democratic leaders say trash talk about Washington’s economy is a job killer. But the real job killer is a specious approach to lawmaking where leaders say one thing and do another.
An example is saying you are concerned about struggling small businesses but refusing to grow the small-business tax exemption that hasn’t been changed in more than a decade. It’s saying you want affordable health insurance for employers but taxing them $1.6 billion a year to expand government-run health care instead. And it’s saying you support the high-tech and biotech industries, then passing legislation aimed at repealing the tax incentives that attract good-paying jobs to Washington.
Perhaps worst of all is the growing interest in tax increases that would place an unnecessary burden on families and employers who are just now getting back on their feet.
In the first half of the 2005 session, the Legislature has spent significantly more time and effort working to grow government at the expense of taxpayers than it has spent working to grow jobs that fuel our economy and create prosperity for families.
Our state has added 40,000 government jobs in the past four years. In the meantime, the number of private-sector jobs is down by 43,000. Our taxpayers cannot afford that kind of jobs program. We cannot sustain an economy where we create more taxpayer-funded jobs at the expense of those in the private sector.
The best that can be said about this legislative session is we’ve seen a lot of “good-sounding” legislation. We are embroiled in what has become known as “bill-title” politics, where the majority party introduces lots of legislation that sounds admirable but lacks the substance to address issues in a meaningful way.
We’ve seen bills that purport to “improve worker safety” by adding restrictions to a private industrial insurance program that has worked better than the state industrial insurance program at reducing injuries and controlling costs. Why legislators think they need to improve on a program that’s already running better than the state program is a mystery.
Over a two-week period, lawmakers worked on prescription-drug legislation that sends consumers to Canada for their drugs, with no assurance of savings or safety. Even the bill’s sponsor admits the measure is symbolic and would have no meaningful effect on health-care costs.
We are well past the time for symbolic gestures. Lawmakers should adopt substantive regulatory reforms that will improve our business climate and bring jobs to our state, and we should remove expensive mandates that make health-care insurance unaffordable for businesses and their employees. These reforms passed the state Senate with bipartisan support in 2003 and 2004, then died in the House — and there are bills on the table today that address these priorities. Unfortunately, it will take more than rhetoric. It will take a bipartisan effort.
As our colleagues have mentioned, we are at a crossroads. In one direction lies the path toward political expediency and tax increases. It leads us to a place where growth in government spending exceeds 10 percent and health-care insurance becomes increasingly unaffordable.
The other direction is the road to a stronger economy, where government makes responsible budget choices just as families must do. It takes us to a place where health care is driven by consumer choice and competition, not government control. And it leads to a process where substance trumps symbolism in the Legislature’s efforts to create opportunities and prosperity for working families.
Rep. Bruce Chandler, left, R-Granger, is House Republican leader, and Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, right, R-Kirkland, is Senate Republican leader in the Washington state Legislature.