March 14, 2013 | Vol. 116 -- No. 47

Encouraging private-sector job creation should be the state Legislature's focus

Guest Commentary

As someone who came to the Legislature from private business, I have advocated that the Legislature get serious about turning around our stagnant economic growth through policies to encourage private investments that create jobs.

House Republicans continue to offer common-sense solutions that would get economic development projects started sooner, curb the rate at which state agencies are drafting new regulations for businesses, and make it harder for the Legislature to raise your taxes. Here are just a few of our ideas.

House Joint Resolution 4206 is our proposal to put the two-thirds requirement to increase taxes into the state constitution. This provision was put back in place with voter passage of Initiative 1185 in 2012. The initiative passed with 64 percent support statewide and with 70 percent support in the 9th District. However, the state Supreme Court just invalidated this high hurdle. If we cement this provision in the state constitution, it would ensure citizens have the taxpayer protections they have supported the past 20 years.

Next, many folks may not know state agencies have the power to pass rules and regulations without legislative oversight, and usually without any consideration of the compliance costs for businesses. The thousands of new regulations enacted each year costs employers time and millions of dollars – money that could increase worker pay and benefits, or create much-needed jobs.

House Bills 1478 and 1162; and House Resolution 4204 would enact major regulatory reforms, such as suspending unnecessary state agency rule-making for three years, or until state revenue growth shows evidence of economic recovery.

Another simple change we proposed would require agencies to make a permit decision within 90 days or the permit is automatically granted. House Bill 1236 would help our battered construction industry and put people to work in good-paying jobs. Getting projects started quickly would accelerate economic development around the state, generating tax dollars for local and county governments.

In addition to these solutions, we must address businesses’ top concern – the costly and inefficient workers’ compensation insurance system. Washington state has the highest benefit costs in the nation. The average time-loss for an injured worker is 289 days, the highest in the nation. And, we have the highest award of life-time pensions, averaging 1,800 pensions per year.

According to the non-partisan, free-market think tank, Washington Policy Center, in order to pay these generous benefits, workers’ compensation rates have gone up 66 percent over the past 10 years. It is expected an additional 40 percent increase over the next 10 years will be needed to keep pace with the enormous costs in the current system.

While our bills in the House have been stalled by the majority party, I applaud the bipartisan Majority Coalition Caucus in the state Senate for their action on legislation that gets to the heart of the cost-drivers in the system – time-loss and the high rate of lifetime pension awards for injured workers.

It’s unfortunate that instead of working to make the system sustainable and benefit workers, workers’ compensation insurance reform has become a political football costing Washingtonians jobs. I encourage constituents to contact committee members to ask them to move forward on job-saving reforms. You can find their information at http://www.leg.wa.gov/House/Committees/LWD/Pages/default.aspx.

Our unemployed citizens cannot wait any longer for the Legislature to adopt solid, common-sense policies that convince employers to expand their workforces. What citizens need are solutions that put their kids, neighbors, spouses and friends back to work.

My hope is some bipartisan compromise on jobs legislation will take place in the House of Representatives before we adjourn April 28. If this should happen, you can count on me to be part of the effort.

Rep. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, serves as the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and as a member of the House Appropriations Committee. She represents the 9th Legislative District.

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