Opinion

Jobs must be Olympia’s top priority

During an icy morning as I was driving my car, I noticed a woman on the street corner holding a sign.

“I need to feed my children,” it read.

Dressed in jeans, a windbreaker jacket was all that separated the shivering woman from the bitter cold.

She looked as if she could have been a grocery checkout clerk, an office secretary, or may have held any type of middle-class job.

Instead, she was a mom who had fallen on hard times and was doing what she must so her children could eat.

I stopped and gave her all the cash I could find in my wallet, and I will never forget the look of gratitude in her eyes. It was truly heartbreaking, but also the reality of one of the worst recessions in our state’s history.

It also emphasizes why job creation should be the centerpiece of the 2010 legislative session, which begins Jan. 11 in Olympia.

More than 47,000 people in Pierce and Kitsap counties were unemployed in November.

That’s more than the combined populations of Bremerton and Gig Harbor. Overall, the state has the highest jobless rate in more than two decades with at least 324,000 people looking for work.

Yet even as working families struggle to get by with reduced hours and smaller paychecks, and employers try to keep their doors open and make payroll in this fragile economy, unfortunately, it seems to be business as usual at the state Capitol.

In the past three months, state agencies have announced they are increasing workers’ compensation premiums and unemployment insurance taxes, and implementing expensive building code requirements that will further put a crimp on new home sales.

A memo discovered from the governor’s staff director recommends state climate change regulations so egregious to businesses that they will beg for a less economically damaging federal cap-and-trade program.

On top of this, the governor wants to raise taxes.

Ask anyone who has been out of work for months: Can they afford to pay higher taxes?

Would it be fair to ask the homeless person to pay more taxes to provide raises for some government workers?

How much more punishment can employers endure from state government before they can no longer afford to do business in Washington, or will they seek greener pastures in other states, as Boeing has done?

The impact of the recession can be seen as close as our grocery stores.

When I’ve been shopping, I no longer see grocery baskets filled to the brim. People are buying only the essentials. They have to make choices between paying the power bill or buying Hamburger Helper.

I see how people in our local communities are struggling like this and it makes me even more determined to change the direction our state is headed.

In the coming days as the legislative session gets under way, lawmakers will be grappling with closing a $2.6 billion budget deficit.

If we are to fix our state’s budget problems, we need solutions that will get people working again.

I am working with my fellow House Republicans on a plan that would help employers preserve and create jobs.

Our solutions are based on regulatory relief, access to affordable health care, clean and low-cost energy, and responsible state spending.

Our plan would reduce the cost of doing business in Washington, including reforming the state’s workers’ compensation system, and making changes in the state’s unemployment insurance program to keep tax rates down while providing benefits for those who truly need them.

Our plan also seeks to reinstitute a “priorities of government” approach to budgeting using existing revenues — one that funds education first, ensures public safety and protects our most vulnerable citizens.

Budgeting is about setting the right priorities and not spending more than you have.

Families recognize this and in the face of a difficult economy, they have set priorities in their own budgets and reduced or eliminated spending on non-essentials.

So should state government.

Finally, we cannot tax ourselves out of this recession. Tax increases would only further damage our business climate, hurt families and prolong the state’s economic troubles.

We need to stop digging ourselves deeper with more regulations and higher taxes and fees that destroy jobs and, instead, empower our state with solutions that will help Washington to climb out of this recession.

Beyond the marbled walls of the Capitol building, real people are struggling in every corner of our state.

I have seen their faces and I am committed more than ever to help them. They want a hand up, not a handout.

Let’s put the focus of the coming legislative session where it will do the most good, by implementing policies that will create jobs in the private sector and get people working again.

Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, serves Washington’s 26th District.

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