Joint Government Affairs Committee
2007 Legislative Agenda
The 2007 legislative session presents opportunities to our Governor and the Legislature. Work remains to be done to improve the business environment. We urge the Legislature and the Governor to seize opportunities to strengthen our economic recovery and continue to improve the competitiveness of business in the state.
To that end, the Joint Government Affairs Committee has identified several key areas of concern that comprise our legislative agenda:
Taxes & Fees
Permitting & Regulation
Economic Development & Competitiveness
Over 50 percent of Washington’s revenue is collected in business related taxes compared to 28-35 percent in neighboring western states. Current tax and fee policies create a non-competitive business environment.
Washington must promote, establish, and protect tax policies that balance the need to provide essential services and the need to minimize the relative tax burden on business.
Support Improvements to Workers Compensation: We support efforts to lower workers’ compensation costs to be competitive with other states by:
– Modifying benefit calculations
– Allowing third party insurers and small group self insurance
– Improving claims management and responsive customer service
Support UI Reform: We support efforts to reform Washington’s Unemployment Insurance program to bring it to a level that makes Washington business competitive with other states.
Support B&O Tax Reform: We support changes to the state’s B&O tax structure including increasing the B&O tax exemption to help small and struggling businesses, maintaining B&O tax credits for specific industries, establishing a retail sales tax collection allowance and the simplification and lowering of B&O tax rates for all businesses.
Oppose the Estate Tax: We support repealing the state estate tax. The current estate tax threatens the survival of small, family businesses in our state.
Support Minimum Wage Reform: We support eliminating the annual automatic increases that have lead to Washington having the highest minimum wage in the nation and to allow for tip credit as most competitive states permit.
Restoring Spending Limits: Since the legislature gutted the I-601 spending limits it has produced the highest spending budget and supplemental budget increases in state history. Government, like business and citizens, must live within its revenue or risk taxing business out of existence and destroying jobs.
Oppose Mandated “Pay or Play” Medical Insurance and/or Single Payer Insurance: Mandatory requirements for all employers to provide health insurance to employees is an infringement on the voluntary employment contract between employee and their workers. Mandating such insurance is an invisible tax and hurts small business. It cost shifts the burden from large employers who have negotiated these benefits with their unions to meet their business plans to small employers who can afford it least.
Support Reasonable Standards for City Designation including citizen elected governance, transparent budgets, and provision of municipal and essential services. Without these standards, residents and businesses of new cities and fully contained communities are unable to hold officials accountable for their tax dollars, while County residents experience a decline in services due to the loss in county tax revenue.
Support complete conformity to the Streamline Sales Tax Agreement (SSTA) that provides full mitigation to negatively impacted jurisdictions and does not impose burdensome reporting practices upon businesses.
The state must ensure sufficient investment and long-term funding for our transportation system, which is essential for a strong economy. This funding and investment must meet 21st century demands and responsibilities in a timely and efficient manner.
Support Safety and Capacity Improvements to the backbone of our transportation system. These major corridors include I-5, SR 9, US 2, SR 522 and all east-west connectors between I-5 and SR 9.
Support State Backfill of the Road Funding Cities and Towns Lost as the Result of I-695.
Support the Regional Transportation Investment District: RTID provides the opportunity for an integrated, roads and transit, transportation package. We support a program that allows flexibility to invest in all modes of our transportation system, and includes bonding options. The program provides flexibility to include all major highways including SR 9, US 2 and SR 522. We support legislation that makes the RTID likely to be approved by voters and implemented successfully.
Support Sound Transit Phase 2 to provide multi-modal options to the citizens of Snohomish County and legislation that enhances the ability to achieve voter acceptance of the program.
Monitor the Legislative Proposals that come from the Regional Transportation Commission: We oppose those proposals that interfere with local control and accountability of transit agencies.
Supports Long-term Investment Options including tolling and public/private partnerships.
Support of smart growth options that provide for alternate modes of transportation.
Support Legislative Approval of the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Regional Mobility Grant Award List, which includes the following projects important to Snohomish County:
– Community Transit’s intermediate Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) station program ($2.4 million).
– Everett Transit’s Everett Station BRT station improvements ($1.98 million).
Government policies should be revised to reduce unnecessary regulation, most particularly mandated benefits. Insurers should be permitted to offer affordable basic health care plans, free of many of these mandates, along with those that may contain more options.
Support Health Care Reform Efforts: Governor Gregoire has outlined a series of incremental changes and incentives in the system: These include:
– Emphasizing evidence based health care
– Promoting healthy life styles
– Management of chronic care
– Creating more transparency
– Making better use of information technology
These proposals have been outlined, but detailed implementation plans have yet to be published. These issues should be monitored for specific effects on the business community.
Support the Provision of Small Group Health Insurance: Oppose new, and support the reduction of, regulatory requirements (e.g. mandated benefits) that unnecessarily add costs to the systems. Key legislation is expected regarding the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner – Risk Pool Initiative, Basic Health Expansion, Kids Insurance 2010.
Medicaid/Medicare Reimbursement: Advocate that the State Legislature actively pursue more adequate reimbursement levels for Medicaid and Medicare and urge the Legislature to communicate with Congress, imploring the federal government to increase funding in these areas.
Oppose Mandated Paid Family Leave: State and Federal law already requires family leave. Requiring employers and/or employees to pay taxes to fund paid family leave increases personal costs for employees who may never use the service and continues to make Washington a non-competitive place to do business.
– Governor Gregoire signed a Washington Family Leave Bill in March 2006. Supporters will resubmit a bill to establish family leave insurance program in the 2007 session.
We recognize that our public schools are ill equipped to meet the higher academic standards required in the state’s education reform law. Adequate funding, qualified educators and improved integration of education and the workplace are required to effect change.
Support legislation to allow public school district levies to pass with a simple majority.
Support competitive professional compensation and benefits to attract and retain best educators.
Support strong workforce training programs to prepare students to meet the demanding challenges in today’s job market.
Washington State’s system of higher education is not meeting the needs of business for educated and skilled workers fully prepared to enter the job market. Access to educational opportunities must be a primary focus. In particular, research indicates that increased access to post secondary education opportunities is a critical need in North Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties to ensure the continued economic growth and vitality of the region.
Support a new four-year university in Snohomish County.
Support expansion of alternative post secondary education options (university center, expanded partnerships with four year institutions) at local community colleges.
Support increased financial aid for students to offset the increasing costs of tuition, child care and disability services.
5. Permitting and Regulations(back to the top)
Vigilant oversight is essential to insure that regulations and statutes are necessary, clear and explicit, evenly applied, and not overly burdensome. Institution and operation of a consistent, systematic program will improve the regulatory and statutory regime, resulting in a vibrant, competitive environment, capable of attracting business and creating jobs.
Support renaming the House Finance Committee to the Finance and Regulatory Reform Committee.
– The newly named committee would be responsible for identifying statutes and regulations that are detrimental to the State’s business climate and competitiveness.
– The committee would also be responsible for proposing statutes, regulations, and other remedies designed to improve Washington’s business climate and competitive environment.
6. Economic Development and Competitiveness(back to the top)
Economic development initiatives are an essential component of a healthy business environment. The Chambers support the use of tax incentives and the promotion of entrepreneurship to provide Snohomish County businesses of all sizes access to the tools and personnel necessary to increase their competitiveness and stimulate growth, while still continuing to attract new industries to our region.
Support Tax Increment Financing to provide economic development and infrastructure that would not otherwise occur.
Support the Development of Entrepreneurship through legislation and reduction of regulatory compliance burdens of small business and promotion of entrepreneurial training at community colleges.
7. Energy(back to the top)
Reliable low cost power is an essential component of a vibrant economy. The Northwest’s electric power system is uniquely dominated by hydropower. This renewable cost-based energy resource has fueled economic growth in the region for decades; however, load growth and regulations threaten the future of low cost power in the region.
Encourage Investment in Energy Conservation through tax incentives. Support efficiency standards for products not covered by federal standards.
Use Incentives that Encourage Development and Use of Renewable Energy as part of utility resource portfolios. Allow utilities significant flexibility towards achieving legislated standards to avoid unnecessary costs.
Support Cost Effective Salmon Recovery Efforts through scientifically supportable activities as part of a comprehensive recovery plan.
Support Policies that Preserve the “Cost-Based” Benefits Provided by the Federal Columbia River Power System: Secondary power revenues should continue to serve as an offset to BPA wholesale power rates.