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Legislators present wishes to Whidbey business leaders
If Whidbey Island’s three lawmakers could accomplish a short wish list in Olympia, one item would clean up the rules governing public-private partnerships, another would pass “comprehensive regulatory reform” and a third would have an outside party closely examine how tax dollars are spent and how much things cost.
At least, and in that order, that’s what District 10 Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano, Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, and Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, told a small contingent of the business community.
The lawmakers were the main speakers at the Island County Economic Development Council’s annual luncheon at the Best Western hotel in Oak Harbor this past Friday.
About 45 people attended the event.
“I think it went great,” said Ken Hofkamp, a member of the council’s board of directors and the owner of the Red Apple grocery store in Coupeville.
It was nice to have an opportunity to get together with lawmakers and talk about the issues that matter most to the business community at a time when the economy is still presenting some real challenges, he said.
“I think everyone is struggling just to maintain,” Hofkamp said.
He was particularly impressed with Smith, who passionately and charismatically argued for regulatory reform and the need to turn Washington into a world leader of manufacturing and exports.
“There are some things we can do that are within our power as government in Olympia to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of Washingtonians,” Smith said.
“That’s exciting,” she said. “Instead of lagging the national recovery, we could accelerate and be leading it.”
Regulatory reform is one of the keys to unleashing that spirit, she said. A common Republican platform, the idea suggests growing the economy by unburdening businesses with rules and fees.
Smith hit a number of topics, ranging from broad issues such as state job creation and the financial situation in Europe, to hot button issues like business and operation tax reform.
Smith was the third legislator to speak.
Haugen, the sole Democrat, started things off by addressing the budget and the $11 billion in cuts that have been made to the general fund over the past few years. “It was not pretty,” but she noted that this year’s budget was adopted in the senate by a “strong bi-partisan” effort that saw only two no-votes.
Haugen also talked about issues ranging from job creation and transportation projects, including ferry construction, to technological advances in public safety and fee increases for driver’s licenses and select industries.
Bailey, who is challenging Haugen this year for the District 10 senate seat, also focused on the state budget, the difficulties of the past legislative session, her voting history and where money was allocated.
She made it clear that she did not vote for the House budget. Bailey addressed many revenue increases proposed by state legislators that did not pass and took exception to the “cuts” mentioned by Haugen.
She said much of that money came from previously planned budget increases that were simply not approved.
“When people talk about cutting $10 billion, it’s all in the way you define the $10 billion,” Bailey said.
The legislators were then quizzed by the crowd with questions that ranged in topic from the price of gasoline and tort reform to what each would do if they could accomplish one thing immediately.
Following the meeting, many business owners said they appreciated hearing about regulatory reform and fee reductions. Anchorage Inn owner Dianne Binder said she believes it’s important, especially for small businesses, and was glad to hear that it is on lawmakers’ radar.
Binder is also a Coupeville Town Councilwoman.
Mike Lauver, of Whidbey SeaTac Shuttle, said he also is most interested in topics about making business in Washington easier. He said his shuttle service also operates a single limo on which some fees have skyrocketed by 500 percent over the past year alone.
Lauver said he has worked with all three lawmakers before and they were positive experiences. However, he said many of the issues discussed are not new and it would be nice to see some real change.
“I hope they will absorb some of that feedback and go and work on things to help small business,” Lauver said.
“It would be nice if it were more than rhetoric,” he said.