OLYMPIA — Washington state Republican legislative leaders on Friday released their own road map for reopening Washington’s economy amid the new coronavirus.
Friday’s plan doesn’t set public health benchmarks for when it would be safe to reopen the economy. But it does specify some lower-risk industries — such as residential construction, auto dealers and solo landscapers — that could reopen soon.
The plan’s 16 recommendations focus mostly on assisting small businesses. It would, among other things, slash Business & Occupation (B&O) taxes, provide sales-tax holidays for retail stores and suspend any inflation-adjusted minimum-wage hike for 2021.
“We believe many sectors of our economy can operate safely, and employers have every incentive to take the precautions needed to guard the health of their workers and their customers,” said Republican Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville, in a statement. “We trust that if they have an opportunity to open their doors, they’ll make it work.”
While GOP leaders were broadly supportive of Inslee’s extraordinary measures to slow the outbreak of COVID-19, some Republicans have begun to chafe at the stay-home order, which is set to expire at the end of the day May 4, after being extended 30 days.
Some have called it too strict — especially for its temporary ban on residential construction and recreational fishing. Others have criticized Inslee’s restrictions on landlords in his quest to ease the economic burden on renters.
And some worry the shutdown is lasting so long it will exact a heavy toll on businesses.
“We can’t afford the time while our businesses are dying on the vine,” said Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia. Barkis said he spent seven hours on the phone Thursday with people talking about businesses and the economy.
“Everyone is saying the same thing,” he said. “If we don’t get on this now, the damage will be irreversible.”
Inslee said this week that he is planning to reopen the economy in phases, likely starting with businesses. The governor has said some restrictions could potentially stay in place beyond May 4.
The GOP plan recommends, among other things, exempting small businesses from paying B&O taxes and allowing them not to charge sales tax for a year. It would also offer state assistance to small businesses that aren’t eligible for help from the federal government.
It recommends the resumption of some jobs that it considers low risk or beneficial to society, including: auto dealers, solo landscapers, residential construction, RV parks, dentists and accountants.
And it urges the use of an existing bipartisan task force that has been formed to help businesses recover.
In an email, Inslee spokesman Mike Faulk said GOP lawmakers did not approach the governor with their proposals.
“I’ve no doubt the governor and staff will review them,” Faulk wrote, adding that he appreciated Republicans acknowledging the existing task force.
“The governor is happy to work in good faith with legislators … as he has done from the very beginning,” Faulk added.
Also on Friday, House Democrats and House Republicans, joined by Senate Democrats, released their own list of businesses that they think could start opening up soon, provided they have enough protective measures in place.
The list includes residential construction, auto dealers, landscapers and in-home cleaning companies. It includes measures those sectors can take to limit any potential spread of COVID-19.
It also envisions some retail stores opening back up by sales online or by appointment, or offering curbside or delivery service.
Such provisions wouldn’t be necessary, however, for retailers in communities that lack access to broadband internet, or in communities with a limited number of COVID-19 cases, according to the proposal.