Mid-Columbia Voices: Business reforms are key to Tri-City job creation

May 13, 2013 

By Sen. Sharon Brown

Special to the Herald

The most efficient way to create jobs and stimulate a lackluster economy is to help businesses find more time and resources.

Business owners who don’t have to spend time and money wading through the complex system of rules and regulations will use that time to improve production and hire more workers. That’s why I’ve proposed and supported dozens of bills to streamline the way state government interacts with businesses, some of which have already become law.

One proposal that will create jobs is reforming the Business Licensing Service, the state’s primary business-licensing portal. The BLS registers businesses, renews licenses and provides related services for approximately 40,000 businesses monthly, and has more than 115 state licenses available through its website.

However, two agencies using the BLS don’t even offer licenses and 16 others don’t offer their licenses through the service. Businesses need a central location to obtain all their licenses from the state, and one of my bills creates that.

Another bill I worked on that’s already become law creates a pilot program to improve the regulatory environment for businesses. Along with several other agencies, the state Department of Commerce will conduct regulatory-streamlining projects that affect specific industry sectors — beginning with the state’s manufacturing sector. We need to bring manufacturing back to this country, and what better place to start than right here in our own state?

Two more of my regulatory-reform bills passed the Senate unanimously. One would improve the state’s business climate by requiring state agencies to review existing rules, and the other would improve customer service to businesses by implementing a statewide business licensing portal — a “one-stop shop” for businesses to access the inspections, licenses and permits required by all state agencies.

During my tenure as mayor pro tem of Kennewick, the city established a similar one-stop shop which resulted in better relationships between builders and city government and allowed business owners to streamline operations and improve productivity — a win for everyone. That’s why I proposed a bill to implement that model at the state level.

There also have been a number of proposals to reduce, excuse or eliminate the state’s oppressive business and occupations tax. The B&O tax is assessed on a business’s gross receipts — meaning total income before deducting the costs for personnel, materials and other expenses. Often, small and mid-sized businesses don’t start making a profit until the third or fourth year of operation, and the state’s B&O tax is a huge burden for them to shoulder during that profitless period.

It’s no wonder Washington has one of the highest startup business failure rates in the country, and established businesses also suffer by the calculation of a tax on gross receipts. Washington is the only state that imposes a B&O tax.

We’ve been mired in a recession since 2008, and the policies supported by a Democratic-controlled Senate, House and governor’s office have failed to turn that around. Our bipartisan Senate majority coalition passed a budget that would get people back to work, fund basic education, reduce college tuition (for the first time in state history), and balance for the next four years — all without new taxes.

So as the Legislature begins its 30-day drive today to reach a budget agreement, it’s imperative that the top priority be helping businesses create jobs. Only then will Washington be able to pull itself out of the recession, get people back to work and instill confidence the state is heading in the right economic direction.

w Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, serves on the Senate committees on Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development; Energy, Environment and Telecommunications; Early Learning and K-12 Education; and Transportation.

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