Rossi stumps for more business-friendly environment in state

Washington state needs to do a better job providing a business-friendly climate, GOP candidate for governor Dino Rossi said during Friday’s Puget Sound Republican Business Luncheon at the Best Western in Fife.

The former state Senator shared his background, discussed what he thought were the obstacles preventing an environment more conducive to businesses and outlined his plan for changing that should he be elected governor in November.

Washington’s business climate is one of the biggest issues of the campaign, Rossi told the audience, noting his own experience in the private sector.

“I understand the private sector 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.

Rossi, 44, also has experience in the public sector. First elected to the state Senate in 1996 from East King County’s 5th District, Rossi served as chairman of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee and last year helped lead efforts to pass a two-year state budget that eliminated the largest deficit in state history without new taxes. He resigned his Senate seat at the end of 2003.

“The rest of the nation is recovering,” Rossi said, noting Washington state has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. “We are not.”

Rossi cited the recent exodus of two companies from Seattle as evidence of the state’s unfriendly business environment: Boeing’s relocation of its world headquarters to Chicago in 2001 and Airborne’s U.S. headquarters migrating to Plantation, Fla. last year after being acquired by German air-cargo company DHL.

“We have to be competitive on all fronts,” Rossi said. “We are not competitive.”

High workers’ compensation and unemployment costs contribute to the situation, he added.

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed business-friendly reforms in California are only going to put more pressure on Washington state to do the same, Rossi said.

“We are in a good position to move forward,” he said, noting Washington state has the talent and resources necessary for better business promotion and job creation. “We’re going to have to respond.”

Rossi’s plan for improving Washington state’s economy involves changing the way state government works and how it deals with the business community.

The state government should be less focused on regulating and controlling the economy, Rossi offered.

Too often, state government gets in the way of economic growth, Rossi observed, noting he wants the state to support emerging entrepreneurs and help small businesses be successful.

“What’s holding us back?” Rossi asked. “Political 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.

Some of Rossi’s proposed solutions:

– No new taxes, said 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. “Forty percent of this is changing the agency heads in Olympia,” he said.

– Assign a “people’s advocate” to each state agency whose only job will be to interact with the public and make sure the agency is properly serving the public and getting its job done.

– 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.

He also recommended that some state functions be privatized in order to save money. “You can’t get a toilet unclogged in Olympia without calling a state employee,” Rossi quipped.

– Workers compensation and insurance, especially medical malpractice insurance, Rossi said, needs to be more competitive. “You’ve got to make it affordable to employers,” he stated.

Rossi has also called for a complete review of every state agency, from top management on down. He contends that while state government bureaucracy has increased, customer service hasn’t improved.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Rossi said of his proposed reforms.