Blueprint for a Better Washington series

Over the 2012 legislative interim, I took a look at some of the major issues facing our state and outlined what I see as positive solutions to move us forward by focusing on the cost and quality of the services being provided, rather than the method by which they’re provided.

Below is a list of the topics addressed in the series; clicking on any of the links will take you directly to that newsletter.

This sets the tone for the series. I always tell people that the key to solving problems in Olympia is to identify the problem and focus on the solution. The three biggest problems I hear from folks I meet with in Whatcom County and across the state is that they want solutions instead of finger-pointing; they want less government red tape so they can create jobs; and they want to be able to invest in their community. This is where the conversation about where our state is at and where it needs to go begins.

Here we outline the three constitutional amendments I’ll be proposing in the 2013 legislative session. The first cements the two-thirds approval threshold for tax increases; the second prohibits a state income tax; and the third requires a four-year balanced budget. Taken together, the amendments would help end the budget roller coaster ride we’ve been on in recent years and promote job creation through a more stable budgeting process.

With this Blueprint, we look at how we can put more money towards road construction without raising taxes by ending the absurd practice of the state paying itself sales tax on transportation projects. You heard that right – the state charges itself sales tax. And the policy is not only ridiculous, it’s also costly – in the most recent budget cycle, $413 million in transportation funds was paid in sales tax.

Our entire ferry system is currently on the verge of sinking. This Blueprint looks at how it can be improved by moving away from the current, Soviet-style management structure and towards a more responsive and efficient model. Some of the solutions proposed include contracting management of ferries to a professional ferry-management company and getting the Legislature out of the boat-building process and letting professionals do the work.

A voter-approved fund already exists for environmental clean-up; the problem is that it’s been repeatedly robbed and diverted to just about everything other than the stated purpose. Refocusing the program on toxic waste clean-up would help improve our environment and create jobs by funding projects, rather than siphoning more money into the general fund.

This Blueprint tackles the biggest issues facing businesses in Washington State. Our workers’ compensation rates our the highest in the nation; in part driven by the fact we grant more lifetime pensions than any other state. Red tape is suffocating job creators and keeping them from more important work. And businesses pay sky-high unemployment insurance rates despite the fact that our reserve fund is almost $3 billion. I outline solutions for these problems, including streamlining government rule-making, opening workers’ comp to responsible competition and ensuring unemployment insurance rates don’t rise unnecessarily.

We look at what we’re doing right on energy and where new ideas could keep electricity costs log and our energy grid reliable, all while moving us towards energy independence. Solutions include revising Washington’s energy standards to recognize clean hydropower as a renewable source of energy and leveling the playing field to ensure that government isn’t picking winners and losers in energy technologies.

I regularly hear from people in our area who want to invest in our community but are precluded from doing so due to government regulations. I’m proposing a pilot project to eliminate the artificially-high costs that come with state funds. Once facilities are built, we need to put a new emphasis on keeping them open to public access.

In order to move our state forward, we need solid leadership based on four rock-solid guiding principles: deciding to balance the budget without raising taxes; agreeing on how much money will be spent; using a Priorities of Government model for budgeting; and focusing on the budget and jobs, rather than social issues.