Group presents remedies for small business

Bill Buchanan
Bremerton Sun Staff

January 19, 2004

OLYMPIA -- Republicans and Democrats in both legislative chambers welcomed a Washington Policy Center agenda for improving the state's small business climate.
It highlights about 30 of the group's primary concerns, ranging from work-force training to environmental regulations to health care. More controversial recommendations are tort reform and replacing the business-and-occupation tax with a personal and business income tax.

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee, was among several lawmakers at Friday's event in a Senate hearing room. He opposes an income tax, citing the problems that Oregon and other states face with their dependence on one.

"I don't think that business people are very eager for an income tax," Sheldon said. "One thing about the B&O tax is that it is a stable source of revenue, and there are some pretty generous reductions for small businesses."

The WPC released its recommendations after holding 15 round-table meetings.

"We listened to small-business owners about what's working, what's not working and what the top issues are," WPC president Dan Smith said.

The grass-roots research gives many hope that progress can be made.

"The story that the press always gets is, 'What did some academic say about the business?' " Sheldon said, "but this is what businesses are saying. Cut regulations, create new jobs -- they're the backbone of the state."

Not everyone agrees how to go about reforming the business climate, but lawmakers said that acknowledging a problem exists is a large step.

"Our state is now moving in a direction where we recognize the importance of our large businesses, as was evident in the 7E7," said House Majority Leader Lyn Kessler, D-Hoquiam. "We need to put that energy into small business as well."

Legislators are being realistic, understanding that in a short session there is not going to be a remedy to all the problems affecting small businesses. Sheldon is working on legislation that would allow loggers to self-insure, claiming that insurance rates for high-risk jobs are exorbitant. Republicans are hoping to reform health care so that small businesses can offer basic services.

David Porter, executive director of the Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council, worries about transportation. Appealing to new businesses requires strong infrastructure, something Porter fears Washington will be lacking.

"If you cannot move people and goods in the state, either on roads or ferries or even the Internet, you can't do economic development," Porter said.

Jean Charneski of the Kitsap County Development Corporation, agrees that attracting new businesses to Kitsap County is difficult.

"It's really a struggle to get individuals to invest over here," she said.

Porter says the key to success is creating a goal that the community can achieve.

"It's very important to have a long-term view of what you want in a community," Porter said. "Is there a vision? A generation from now, what do we want to look like? How many jobs do we want to come in? ... If we can get those visions in place and honor them, we'll be well off."


Lawmakers ready small business agenda

This story was published Saturday, January 17th, 2004

By Chris Mulick Herald Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA -- The business lobby rolled out an extensive small business agenda Friday containing many of the issues that will test the Legislature's drive and ability to compromise this session.

Reducing costs of the state's workers' compensation and unemployment insurance system were included, as were plans for tax cuts, cutting red tape and placing caps on pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice cases.

"These are the same problems we've been talking about for a long, long time," said Sen. Pat Hale, R-Kennewick. "The good news is the debate is changing."

What's changed the landscape, in part, is the package of tax incentives the Legislature approved last year to help lure Boeing into building its next jetliner, the 7E7, in Everett. Members of the small business lobby, then and now, have let lawmakers know they also want a piece of the pie, arguing small businesses' plight to survive in a tough economy has gone relatively unnoticed.

"There's kind of this drip-drip effect," said Paul Guppy, vice president for the Washington Policy Center, a business-oriented think tank which produced the agenda outlined Friday.

The agenda is chock-full of hot-button issues that already have spurred partisan debate in Olympia. It also includes items, such as a plan to replace the state business and occupation tax with a personal and business income tax, that will be unpopular among many in the small business community.

House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, a Hoquiam Democrat whose caucus opposes many of the proposals outlined in the agenda, called for lawmakers and stakeholders to find middle ground.

"If we rely on extremes from one side or the other, we won't be successful," she said.

Sen. Tim Sheldon, a Potlatch Democrat and chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee, tempered expectations that all could be accomplished this session.

But Gary Chandler, a vice president for the Association of Washington Business, said reducing the cost of the state's worker's compensation system can't wait. Rates charged to employers have gone up by 40 percent in the past year.

"We have to do something this session," he said. "We cannot sustain that."


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