By Norma Smith
It’s the Sunday paper, and you’re supposed to be relaxing. So, why read a column about an issue that makes people’s eyes glaze over? Because it matters. What is it? Regulatory reform, its relationship to job creation, the critical need to understand the role it can play in accelerating our economic recovery, and what we can do about it.
Think about the diversity of Washington state’s economy and how blessed we are to have a broad spectrum of robust industry sectors, including agriculture, aerospace, high-tech and biosciences, marine trades, health care, energy, tourism and natural resource industries.
Now consider our state’s economy as a three-legged stool: research and development, service and production. All are dependent upon one another to create vibrancy and synergy critical to economic growth.
Yet, in Washington, our regulatory business climate threatens growth and is a key competitive disadvantage as we compete to promote job creation across all sectors. Economists tell us certainty is essential to recovery. The uncertainty created by an adversarial and unpredictable regulatory climate is palpable. No bureaucrat can measure the “weariness factor” a small-business owner experiences when significant sums of money and time have been spent trying to make multiple agencies happy on a straightforward issue, only to face indecision or a default “no.”
This has not gone unnoticed. We’ve received national attention because of our poor ratings. In addition, our own state auditor published findings, as did our Washington Economic Development Commission (WEDC), noting our “overly burdensome” climate, and that it must improve as one of five key strategies for long-term success.
This is essential in light of the disturbing headlines of economic decline in other regions of the country. Why? Because in the crosshairs of costly, duplicative and confusing regulations and rules is the production sector of our economy — manufacturing, growing, building, processing, and creating the products and commodities that are essential for our economic viability and recovery.
Production jobs provide many of the best opportunities for stable, family-wage jobs that offer a hope and future for Washington families — especially those struggling to make ends meet and who long for a better life for themselves and their children. More than 60 percent of working Washingtonians do not have a four-year college degree. With training opportunities, the production sector of our economy provides excellent opportunities for wages, benefits and advancement. And for all of us, a vibrant economy is dependent on production.
In Olympia this year, something significant took place. I finally saw an encouraging bit of “sea change” and an improved momentum regarding this issue. The state auditor’s recommendations report from 2012 and the WEDC strategies paved the way.
I began working in late fall to draft four pieces of legislation based on their findings. Meetings with the impacted agencies were insightful, and involving them was critical to success. Our new governor spoke about the need to improve our business climate and lent weight. Colleagues from both sides of the aisle co-sponsored and supported the proposed legislation. I partnered with Sen. Sharon Brown from the 8th District, who introduced bills in the Senate and worked tirelessly as an advocate — increasing the opportunity for their passage. All four bills (House Bill 1591/Senate Bill 5679), (HB1818/SB5765), (HB1757/SB5718) and (HB1403/SB5680) were signed into law.
Regulatory reform is about doing the job of government in a smarter way that costs taxpayers less, so that hard-earned dollars can be used for reinvestment and job creation. It allows for the unleashing of creativity and inspiring confidence in the American Dream.
Some see the issue as “code language” for lowering our standards for public health, safety or environmental protection. That is simply not true. Washington state is an international leader in demonstrating that a sustainable, robust production sector can be at home in an extraordinarily beautiful environment. While we will always be improving, we will continue to lead by example.
The four bills I mentioned will not fix our state’s massive “overly-burdensome regulatory system.” Our job creators have been slogging through the matrix for decades, fighting for fairness, clarity and predictability. But the legislation does take significant steps in the right direction — sending a clear message that, with courage and diligence, we can make improvements to our business climate, celebrate the job creators, and continue to build a stronger economy that offers hope and opportunity for every hard-working Washingtonian.
Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, serves as the ranking Republican on the House Technology and Economic Development Committee. She also serves on the House Capital Budget, Government Accountability and Oversight and Higher Education Committees.