Rossi brings pro-business agenda to Lakewood Chamber

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi brought his pro-business agenda to a receptive audience Thursday at the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce’s general membership luncheon at the Tacoma Country & Golf Club.

The former state Senator shared what he thought were the obstacles preventing a more business-friendly environment in Washington and outlined his agenda should he be elected governor in November.

Democratic candidates Christine Gregoire and Ron Sims were invited to appear as well. Gregoire was traveling in eastern Washington and Sims failed to respond to phone calls, Lakewood Chamber officials said.

“People want change,” said Rossi, perhaps best known for serving as chairman of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee that last year lead efforts to pass a two-year budget that eliminated the largest deficit in state history without new taxes. He resigned his Senate seat at the end of 2003 in order to run for governor.

That was not a decision he came to easily, admitted Rossi, 44, who was first elected to the state Senate in 1996 from East King County’s 5th District. Rossi resisted making a run for the governor’s office, even as constituents and political colleagues – including President Bush – urged him to do so. His wife asking him what kind of state he wanted his children – there are four in the Rossi family – to grow up in finally prompted him to enter the race in November.

Referring to one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation and the recent exodus of two companies from Seattle – Boeing’s relocation of its world headquarters to Chicago in 2001 and Airborne’s U.S. headquarters migrating to Plantation, Fla. last year – Rossi has made improving Washington’s business climate one of the central focuses of his campaign.

“I understand the free enterprise system from the ground up,” said Rossi, who works as a commercial real estate investment broker. He has a bachelor’s degree in business management from Seattle University. “I want to see entrepreneurs become entrepreneurs again.”

Rossi hopes to bring his fiscally conservative but socially conscious style to the governor’s office. He attributes his success with last year’s state budget – a combination of no increases for some departments and programs, more efficient use of money and outright cuts – to getting a philosophical majority versus a partisan majority.

“We have to be competitive on every front,” the would-be governor told the audience, blaming the state’s poor business climate on a lack of leadership in Olympia.

Democratic Gov. Gary Locke is not seeking re-election to a third term. Democrats control the House by a 52 to 46 margin, while the Republicans hold a one-seat advantage in the Senate, 25-24.

Rossi’s plan for improving Washington’s economy involves taking on the way state government works and how it deals with the business community. The state should support emerging entrepreneurs, Rossi observed, and help small businesses be successful.

“We have to change things,” he stated bluntly, pointing out the state often gets in the way of success.

Some of Rossi’s proposed solutions:
– No new taxes should be levied, according to Rossi, who advocates reducing the tax burden and other costs imposed by state government.

– Hire state agency heads with a focus on customer service and better efficiency, which he said will solve about 40 percent of the problem.

– Streamline – and in some cases remove – unnecessary regulations.

– Institute accountability measures for state agency regulations. For every rule an agency imposes, it must have the clear permission of the governor and/or the Legislature.

– Workers compensation and insurance, especially medical malpractice insurance, Rossi said, needs to be reformed. Doctors are leaving the state, he pointed out, because they cannot afford medical malpractice insurance.

“We have everything we need to be successful right here,” Rossi said in concluding his speech on a positive note.