Zarelli champions 'homegrown businesses'

By M.L. Madison
The Daily News, Longview, WA

Jan 14, 2003

Olympia, WA - Washington would be required to invest more money into its own businesses and start-ups if a bill introduced Monday by State Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, is passed this session.

The bill would require the State Investment Board, which manages $35.9 billion in state retirement funds, to invest a higher percentage of money in local businesses or business proposals.

The board invests in companies across the country, but less than 2 percent of that money -- $61 million -- is invested in Washington businesses or ventures, Zarelli said.

"Shouldn't we invest a little bit more in homegrown businesses in Washington? Maybe we'll encourage businesses (to locate here) that might otherwise be in another state," Zarelli said. "Maybe we'll invest in the next Microsoft. I think it will encourage start-ups."

Bev Hermanson, a lobbyist for the Washington Federation of State Employees and a former board member, said the board is charged with making investments "that are going to give a high return."

"It would seem, off the top of my head, that having them invest in start-ups or new businesses might be pretty risky for investing pension funds," she said.

Zarelli said the board already has a mix of high- and low-risk investments.

"I'm not getting into their business other than to say we need to do more to promote Washington business growth," he said.

Ted Sprague, president of the Cowlitz Economic Development Council, said Washington "has a strong history of innovative companies and strong start-ups.

"The consideration they have been shown, to this point, appears lacking," he said. "I haven't read the bill, but I like the idea."

Zarelli introduced a second bill Monday that would raise the income limit for property tax deferral from $34,000 to $40,000 for seniors and people who are retired because of physical disabilities.

The bill, SB 5034, would also raise seniors' income eligibility levels for property tax exemptions, and allow them to deduct health care insurance premiums from their disposable income.


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