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Business Finds Better Climate In Olympia

The political climate in Olympia is more accommodating toward business this session than in many a season, according to a top spokesman for the private sector.

“I give a lot of credit to the governor,” says Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business. “There is some good dialogue going on between Democrats and Republicans.”

Indeed, in the view of this veteran lobbyist, an about-face by Washington’s liberal governor and Democratic lawmakers from take-it-or-leave-it to giveand-take is this legislature’s most notable achievement.

“The atmosphere is a lot more productive this session on both regulatory reform and on health care reform,” Brunell said.

“On health care reform,” he said, “we sat down with the other side and we agreed that we both have two goals in common that we want to achieve.

“One is increased access to health care insurance and coverage. The other is some type of cost-containment mechanism. And I think we are pretty close to agreement.”

Accordingly, his side of the health care debate is excising from its legislative package a referendum clause which would force a public vote this fall on outright repeal of 1993 reforms. The referendum tactic was adopted by GOP legislators to circumvent the veto power of Gov. Mike Lowry, a champion of reform.

Brunell says the decision against submitting the issue to a public vote is an in-kind response to “good cooperation” by the governor and Democratic lawmakers. But opponents see the gesture as just another end run by business and the insurance industry around reforms.

The maneuver begins with the GOP removing the referendum clause to improve odds of enacting a bill that nevertheless scuttles much of the 2-yearold reform act. Also, this ploy could possibly avert a Lowry veto.

But meantime, a citizens initiative drive is under way behind the scenes - backed by business and insurance companies again - to repeal the 1993 reform act.

Some Democratic strategists, truth be told, would as soon see a statewide vote on repeal. They hope Republicans will end up - along with insurers and business interests - tarred and feathered by voters as heartless and conniving despoilers.

As to overhauling state rules and regulations, Brunell says, “The governor has agreed to a lot of the reform provisions. With both parties working together for progress,” he concludes, “I think there will be agreement on regulatory reform, too, this session.”

Promoting, nurturing and emphasizing an aura of cooperation and compromise between legislators serves the business community and others with a stake in the GOP agenda well at this juncture. Their goal is to push through as much key legislation as possible before the battle of the budget begins.

Timing is critical, because Republican and Democratic versions of the spending package are $600 million apart. And the top legislative priorities of the private sector are budget driven.

Hence, enacting these before the blood letting begins over business tax breaks and welfare cuts would help to lock in the business establishment’s agenda.

For business, says this student of government, the bottom line midway through the session is, “It’s a different world in Olympia.

“And I see more goods signs of changes in attitudes coming,” said Brunell. “I read a survey that something like 70 percent of the teen-agers now have a faith. And 40 percent of them are attending some type of religious service.

“At my church, the 5 o’clock mass - which is the teen-agers’ mass - is packed.”

However, the business advocate observed, “There’s so much frustration built up out there in the business community that people aren’t willing to wait. They are looking for sweeping changes now. But I don’t think all the changes can come at once.

“Some of the stuff Newt Gingrich (U.S. Speaker of the House and architect of “The GOP Contract With America”) and those folks are doing is probably right,” said Brunell. “But you’ve got to counterbalance things.

“You can only push so hard - and then things push back.”

Words of wisdom.


The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review