GUEST OPINION | Unlock regulatory handcuffs

Ronald Reagan once said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

I was reminded of this statement after reading what a Department of Ecology spokeswoman recently said about how the state offers businesses ideas for “best management practices” so they can become compliant: “We don’t tell them how to do it. We tell them what they need to do, and as long as they do it we’re not going to handcuff them,” she said.

Is that really the kind of help employers in Washington need?

Businesses are already struggling in a very difficult economy. Now add the elements of government they are forced to deal with, just to name a few:

• A staggering 14,600 pages of rules in the Washington Administrative Code they are expected to know and comply with;

• A tax system like no other that imposes a “business and occupation” tax on gross receipts, regardless of whether or not a business has made a profit;

• A lengthy and expensive permitting process that creates massive barriers against those who wish to develop land, use water, or engage in any type of construction or expansion;

• Double-digit workers’ compensation premium increases and unnecessarily high unemployment insurance rates; and

• New restrictive energy building codes in the construction industry (one of the areas hit hardest in the state by the recession), which could add thousands of dollars to the cost, making new homes unaffordable.

For many years, there’s been discussion in the Legislature about reforming our state’s regulatory system and reducing government burdens on employers. In 2002, Gov. Gary Locke’s Washington Competitiveness Council acknowledged how these burdens have affected the state’s business climate. The council wrote: “The current regulatory structure unnecessarily delays projects, creates unnecessary uncertainty, reduces operating flexibility, and increases barriers to business growth. It stirs hostility toward government. It wastes resources, increasing government costs. It leads to angry applicants and it encourages project opponents to manipulate the permitting system.”

In the nine years since that report was issued, very little has changed in state government to improve our state’s business climate. Yet outside the marbled walls of the state Capitol building in Olympia, much has changed. We have some of the highest statewide unemployment rates in 25 years as businesses close or curtail operations. It’s time we take action.

Instead of threatening employers with handcuffs, we need to give them a helping hand. State government needs to be a part of their solutions — not their problems.

Gov. Gregoire took a good first step in November when she signed an order suspending and limiting state rule making. As she correctly noted, “The time and effort small business owners would put into meeting new requirements would be better spent in improving their bottom line, and adding new employees.” However, that executive order expires Dec. 31, 2011. We need to do more.

Here are some bills we have proposed to help employers:

• House Bill 1671 would require state agencies, before adoption of a rule, to determine whether compliance would have a specified economic impact. If so, the rule may not be enforced until enacted into law by the Legislature.

• House Bill 1341 would delay implementation of proposed rules until they have weathered the scrutiny of a legislative session.

• House Bill 1388 would prohibit implementation of new energy building codes until April 1, 2012, giving the construction industry a chance to get back on its feet again.

In addition, we are negotiating to reduce the costs of workers’ compensation premiums, while reforming the system to ensure greater efficiencies. Several days ago, we also passed legislation that will recalculate unemployment insurance rates, providing a reduction of up to 36 percent for employers.

The small and large employers in our state play a vital role in providing good jobs for families, supporting our communities and driving tax revenue to support our state budget. It’s time to unshackle their handcuffs, lift government off their backs, remove the barriers that stifle job growth, and allow them to get Washington working again.

Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District. He can be contacted at 360-786-7967 or e-mail him through his website at www.houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.

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