OLYMPIA - Gov. Chris Gregoire urged people with business connections statewide to support her plan to reduce unemployment insurance rates, one of several issues facing business owners this year that were discussed Thursday as part of an annual legislative meeting of the Association of Washington Business.
On Thursday, AWB members participated in workshops with state lawmakers and heard the Governor speak at the Red Lion Hotel Olympia. Today, some 70 business owners are expected to visit the Capitol to meet with lawmakers.
The AWB has more than 7,300 members statewide and about 180 board members, spokeswoman Jocelyn McCabe said.
The highlight of Thursday’s presentations, though, was the governor’s lunchtime speech, in which she pointed out the state’s economic strengths and her plans to make them stronger.
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“As difficult as things are today, we are in a better position now than a whole lot of other states,” she said, adding that the state of Illinois has been unable to pay its Medicaid bill for six months.
Washington also has been ranked as one of the top destinations to do business by Forbes Magazine, and the Port of Seattle recently was featured on the business news network CNBC because of record business activity there in 2010. The ports of Seattle and Tacoma have been recognized as some of the best ports in the country, Gregoire told the audience.
Still, the state essentially is in the middle of a jobless recovery, it can’t afford to have a 9 percent unemployment rate and still faces a budget shortfall of $4.6 billion during the next biennial budget, she said.
Unemployment insurance rates, too, are statutorily set to increase 36 percent, Gregoire said. Because the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund is relatively healthy – 35 other states are borrowing money from the federal government to pay jobless benefits – the governor wants to cut the rate to help businesses in this economy.
“I think it’s time to be able to cut the rate and spur the economy, so that’s what I have proposed,” the governor said.
She asked the audience to support legislation that will lower the rate and that the bill gets to her desk for signature no later than Feb. 8.
“I need your help,” she said.
Although Washington businesses likely won’t face higher taxes, business owners remain concerned about new fees and other rate increases to raise new revenue for the state. It doesn’t help businesses here or the state’s image, said Pat Rants, president and chief executive of The Rants Group, a commercial real estate company in Olympia. Rants also is an AWB board member.
“The state’s competitiveness is more important now than it’s ever been,” he said, adding that higher fees or rates, for example, could affect the state’s ability to recruit new businesses to the area.
He also would like to see the state “bite the bullet” on balancing the budget, rather than shift money around and delay addressing the state’s budget problems.
Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 firstname.lastname@example.org