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Business Advisory Panel Urges State Lawmakers To Go Back To Basics

A panel of advisers to Washington Gov. Mike Lowry has told the titular head of the state’s “Party of Big Government” the state must change the way it does business., The Governor’s Small Business Improvement Council issued a set of recommendations saying, in effect, it’s time for the three R’s:

Rein in the regulatory and rule-making orgy that is tying business in knots with red tape.

Rewrite health care reform.

Reverse the perception of small business that the state is the enemy of the people.

The just-released report mirrors the revolutionary mood of the American public and a political shift hard right. This is somewhat surprising, considering the 24 business members of the panel were handpicked by a liberal Democrat.

Throughout the report, the changes advocated are tacit recognition that government is out of touch. Too big. Too intrusive. Too incomprehensible. Too zealous. Too stifling. Too expensive. Etc. Etc.

While claiming a “generally positive outlook” itself, the council warned “there is a growing belief in the small-business community that Washington state government is anti-business.

“If the state is being seen as an enemy of business, that perception must be changed,” the report says.

In the realm of regulatory reform, the council says, “Government regulations are often cited as the single biggest impediment to small business.”

For example, “the state is viewed as increasingly using regulations to levy fees, fines and charges - in effect taxing business.”

And overreaching efforts by officialdom to “strictly enforce obscure or ambiguous or conflicting rules create unnecessary tension,” says the report.

“Moreover, when emphasis is placed on fining errant businesses without first making an effort to provide education and technical assistance, the chasm between business and government deepens.”

Advisers urge the governor to “require state agencies to enact policies that education be provided businesses on how to correctly comply. And a reasonable amount of time be allowed for them to bring their practices into compliance prior to citing the business.”

While the report calls its recommendations a “consensus for change,” its conclusions appear to constitute nothing short of a mandate for reform.

“We represent a spectrum of small business across the state,” says a vice chair of the council, Spokane consultant Bill First. “And we focused on things where we thought the (Democratic) governor and (Republican) legislators could find common ground.”

There is evidence to suggest that Lowry may be moving in the direction of accommodation. It may be that he recognizes a major shake-up of the state bureaucracy is inevitable in this session of the Legislature, with or without his cooperation.

For example, Lowry now says he will drop his demand last session that civil service reform to permit contracting out work to private contractors be tied to the right to strike for state employees.

Also, there are signs he is resigned to overhaul of the 1993 health care reform act. Although he continues to stand by his commitment to universal coverage, the governor now acknowledges there are other ways “to get there” besides mandated coverage by employers.

Here, too, the conclusions of the advisory panel seem to presage a change in the governor’s position. Says the report, “The Small Business Improvement Council recognizes that a very large percentage of the small-business community opposes any employer mandates.

“The small-business community fears that mandatory participation could be the economic equivalent of a condemnation notice.

“Far more acceptable than mandated benefits would be a plan of incentives that would allow employers currently offering health care plans to continue to do so and to encourage an expansion of benefits to those who are not covered (italics mine).”

Lowry himself now says expanding the state’s existing basic health care program for the working poor to take in others who lack insurance for one reason or another might achieve “maximum” coverage.


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

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