Rossi: Business climate 'terrible'

Friday, July 16, 2004
By DON JENKINS, Columbian staff writer

When Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi renewed his driver's license recently, he found the customer service from state workers "terrific."

Meanwhile, his Web site describes state government as "arrogant and out of touch." (In bold letters, no less).

So does the condemnation apply to all of state government?

"Not all phases," Rossi said Thursday in an interview at The Columbian. "The bottom line is, we have a lot of great state employees. We just have the wrong leadership at the top."

The former state senator from Sammamish has made regulatory reform a cornerstone of his bid to become Washington's first Republican governor in two decades.

He proposes to follow the example set by New York Gov. George Pataki and establish a Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform to regulate the regulators.

Another idea is to assign a "people's advocate" to every state agency.

"Bad customer service from state government can make or break businesses," according to another bold-faced sentence on Rossi's Web site.

Washington voters haven't elected a Republican governor since picking John Spellman in 1980, a big year for the Ronald Reagan-led GOP.

Rossi said he doubts that President Bush's popularity, or lack thereof, will affect his fortunes.

"We have separate issues," Rossi said. "I don't have anything to do with world peace."

Unlike previous unsuccessful Republican candidates for governor, Rossi isn't emphasizing social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage.

As a legislator, he voted to ban gay marriage, but "none of those issues I'm running on never have, never will," he said.

Instead, Rossi has stuck to a pro-business agenda of improving what he describes as a "terrible" business climate.

"I'm finding that people, quite frankly, are concerned about keeping a roof over their heads and feeding their families."

Rossi spent seven years in the Senate, achieving a high profile in 2003 as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

He and Democratic Gov. Gary Locke were the key figures in producing a budget that eliminated a $2.6 billion shortfall without a general tax increase.

Like Rossi, Democratic front-runner Christine Gregoire, the state's attorney general, has called for reducing the tax businesses pay on gross revenue.

The other Democratic candidate, King County Executive Ron Sims, has made the same proposal, but goes further, indicating support for replacing the tax on gross receipts with a tax on profits.

Sims also suggests reducing property taxes, and eliminating the sales tax and replacing it with a graduated income tax.

The current tax structure holds down struggling businesses and puts a greater burden on those least able to pay, according to Sims.

Rossi disputes the idea that profits would need to be taxed to compensate for reducing taxes on gross receipts. He argues that lower taxes will create jobs and increase government revenue, which primarily depends in this state on consumer spending.

"The only way you can have (the tax system) more stable is to have a predictable, stable climate for the people who are going to create jobs," Rossi said.

If the state adopted an income tax, lawmakers would eventually succumb to the temptation to tax both income and consumption, he said.

The sales tax would be "incredibly regressive" if the state taxed food, shelter and medicine, Rossi said. "But we don't."

Don Jenkins covers state government and politics. He can be reached at 360-759-8038 or



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