Government needs to change how it does business, legislators say

Rep. Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard) addresses the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce as Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch)looks on.  - Charlie Bermant
Rep. Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard) addresses the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce as Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch)looks on.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant

A full contingent of Washington state legislators from two local districts addressed about 65 people at a forum on Monday night sponsored by the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce, calling for a restructuring of government and an increase of support for small businesses.

“This year’s budget is a challenge,” said Sen, Derek Kilmer, (D-Gig Harbor). “We need to make investments in the business climate and provide tax relief for small businesses. There needs to be some way we encourage these businesses to start up, or hire more people. We are in a deep recession. Traditionally, the small businesses and not the large corporations that lift us out of a recession.”

In addition to Kilmer, the panel consisted of Rep. Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor) and Rep. Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard), Kilmer's 26th District colleagues, and Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch), Rep. Kathy Haigh (D-Shelton) and Rep. Fred Finn (D-Thurston County).

This year’s 60-day legislative session begins Jan. 11.

It is designated as a “non-budget year,” intended to correct and amend the budget passed during the last session.

Economic conditions have not improved, and legislators have indicated the necessity to continue the cuts imposed in 2009.

The Legislature cut $3 billion from the budget in 2009 and its immediate mission in the coming session, according to several of the speakers, is to cut an equivalent amount for the next two years.

“We’re not going to recover from this recession anytime soon,” Seaquist said. “We’re looking at a long, hard 10 years of high unemployment, high costs and low revenue. So we need to grow businesses. We should form a task force in each region to determine specific ways to get appropriate businesses to develop in those areas.”

The specific ideas mentioned to support business growth have to do with tax credits and fee restructuring. So if a business with limited resources no longer has to pay a tax or a fee it will be able to hire more people.

“My daughters run a dance studio across the street,” Angel said. “They have asked me many times why the B&O (business and occupations) tax can’t be figured from the net and not the gross.”

Kilmer said it was important to support veteran-owned businesses and give former military personnel credit for the experience they have gained in the service.

He also recommended that community colleges accept credit from specialized technical colleges, which they currently do not.

“I have found that students who are graduating from technical colleges have to repeat the same courses they have already taken if they want to continue their education,” he said. “This doesn’t make sense in a time when the classes are overcrowded and the colleges can’t accommodate all of the students who want to attend.”

Sheldon restated his support for getting the state out of the liquor business and selling franchises to retail stores to stimulate local economies.

He said the state-run liquor authority is inefficient, for its practice of shipping and receiving all the liquor in the state from a single Seattle warehouse.

“Private business would never run its entire inventory for a single location in an area the size of the state,” Sheldon said. “It’s more efficient to have multiple distribution sources.”

Sheldon said that privatizing the liquor business is only the beginning.

”Why do we need a state printing office,” he asked. “Why can’t we just go to Kinko’s?”

Several of the speakers called for a more bipartisan climate in the Legislature, noting that both houses and both parties need to work toward common goals.

Angel, the lone Republican on the panel, said it was up to the Democrats to implement this.

“The majority party has been in charge for a long time,” she said. “It’s up to them to make the compromises so things can change.”

The forum was one of the first events to be held at the newly opened Port Orchard Pavilion. The audience was predominantly chamber members and local business people, while several elected officials were also in attendance from the county, cities and all three Port of Bremerton commissioners.

Each legislator made a short statement, followed by a question-and-answer period.

Several of the questions were actually statements from the usual local political activists.

Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners (KAPO) President Tim Matthes, for example, underscored property owners’ rights while South Kitsap School District board members Chris Lemke and Kathryn Simpson spoke out against further secondary education cuts.

Even if this was expected, it was necessary.

Seaquist, who has been warning voters about the brutality of the upcoming budget process for months, has implored those with special concerns to stay in the Legislature’s face in support of those issues.

During the public segment, Dick Davis challenged the lawmakers to develop a credible long-term solution.

“You need to show us something that is positive that you are going to work on and try to improve,” Davis said. “I know you don’t work on this one bill at a time. I know this is serious problem, but we need to see a 10-year plan where you tell us what you are going to do and what you want us to do.

“You need to work with us and trust us,” he said, “so we can all make it happen. It’s not about how much money you can make by shutting down the liquor business. That’s a false choice."

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