Real change is needed for economic recovery in Washington

In Washington, we are blessed to have some of the most creative and innovative employers in the country. Likewise, our employers are blessed with talented employees who have the intellectual horsepower to help them compete in a global marketplace.

Yet with our successes, there is a troubling trend. Washington state is slipping in its competitiveness and ability to retain and recruit companies — in aerospace and other industry sectors.

This summer, I met with dozens of employers in Washington struggling under the recession and asked what I can do to help. Repeatedly, the same themes emerged: employers are overwhelmed with state agency red tape and the growing costs of doing business. This is why Washington’s leaders and agencies must usher in a new culture of responsive and responsible government.

It’s past time to address the barriers Washington puts in front of employers looking to hire more employees. Our unemployment insurance system taxes are the sixth most expensive in the nation. We also levy a unique gross receipts tax on businesses, which taxes them regardless of whether they turn a profit. This tax disproportionately punishes small employers, making it harder for our economic engine to add employees and grow their operations.

Our workers’ compensation system is also one of the most costly and complex in the nation. It is a national outlier in terms of administrative costs and expensive pensions. Unbelievably, the state Department of Labor and Industries recently proposed a 7.6 percent premium increase for 2010. A tax increase on employers during a difficult recession, to pay for a broken system badly in need of reform, is not sound policy.

This tax hike will take $117 million out of employers’ and employees’ pockets that could be used to create jobs or increase wages to help offset the rising costs of necessities, such as health care, food and housing.

Whenever the Legislature or state agencies consider policies that impact employers, the first question that should be asked is: Will the policies create and retain jobs in Washington? While we await Boeing’s decision on where to locate a second Dreamliner production plant, we must keep our focus on all employers and what we can do as a Legislature, and in our agencies, to save and recruit jobs. State leaders must declare with a clear and unified voice, “We want your business here, and we intend to provide the customer service you need from state government to be successful.”

I have a simple philosophy: Vibrant businesses create jobs essential for the well-being of families across the state. Whether large or small, our various employers are cornerstones of communities. Good-paying jobs create local economic security and prosperity.

Washington must put out the welcome mat and invite in new and innovative employers. With an unmatched quality of life, our state should attract the forward-thinking companies that will provide much-needed family-wage jobs while pioneering and producing the technology of the future. But we must be willing to identify barriers to recruitment, examine competitor practices to leverage our strengths and address our weaknesses.

With strong leadership, we can begin to restructure state agencies to be customer-focused and less burdensome. State agencies must embrace meaningful streamlining reforms to better serve employers. I believe the state should utilize every tool to encourage job creation, while eliminating unnecessary red tape. Our economic recovery is at stake..

Tenth Legislative District Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, is the lead Republican on House Community and Trade and Economic Development Committee.

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