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Budget Writer Asks ‘What About Bob?’

Mon., Jan. 13, 1997

When people who want to spend the taxpayers’ money come to beg and schmooze with the man who will shape Washington state’s next budget, Jim West plans to lean back in his chair and ask himself how each proposal might affect Bob.

Jim? Bob? Yup. Jim West, Spokane’s Republican senator, has become one of the most powerful people in Olympia. He chairs the budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee. And he has announced that among his criteria for acceptable legislation is the Bob Test. Bob owns a small business and works 12 hours a day. There had better be a darned good reason, West figures, before government takes away Bob’s hard-earned money. Bob is real, by the way, and for the whole story on who he is, read columnist Doug Clark in Tuesday’s Spokesman-Review.

Meanwhile, suffice it to say that if more legislators would serve the interests of small business people, who create the bulk of this state’s jobs, public policy might be transformed - for the better.

By a long tradition, Republicans have tended to represent big corporations and Democrats have tended to represent big government-worker unions. That’s how tax policy evolved into corporate welfare and that’s how the ideals of social service evolved into Olympia office buildings stuffed with multi-layered bureaucracies.

But there is a new, more populist breed of Republican in Olympia. The newcomers don’t yet fall flat and grovel when the capital’s legendary corporate lobbyists parade past in a vision of blue-suited splendor.

So if Sen. West can inspire his colleagues seriously to apply the Bob Test, he could do some good. Consider:

Bob needs good roads to get to work and, when it comes to handling potholes, his older-model car is no Mercedes. He can’t afford to waste hours of his day sitting in traffic jams, either. Washington state’s highways budget, including the inadequate sums distributed for city streets, has not kept pace with the needs. It’s time for that to change.

The Bobs of our state cannot afford to send their kids to Yale. So they need an affordable state university. However, past legislatures plowed billions into the expansion of social bureaucracies, welfare handouts and prisons, leaving Washington’s universities too small to educate the young people who will apply in future years. The universities want to raise tuition but since Bobs don’t qualify for financial aid that would place college further out of reach. And if Bob’s kids do make it to State U, those famous professors had better take more time away from their research projects to teach. Teaching assistants don’t cut it, at today’s tuition rates.

Small businesses struggle constantly for better service and efficiency. So should state government. It is an outrage that state law bans Washington from innovating, as other states are doing, via privatization of services.

Tax cuts are expected this year but the question is whether taxes will be cut in ways that favor the biggest corporations, or small businesses and average taxpayers. Another break for the big boys might leave residential and small-business taxes at levels that will inspire a tax revolt this whole state eventually would regret.

How would each bill affect Bob? It sounds corny, but it’s a darned good question.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board

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