Position Papers

2014 Legislative Objectives

Executive Summary

The Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee has identified public policy issues that affect business at the state, regional and local levels. The Committee bases its support for or opposition to legislation on whether or not it creates a strong and sustainable business environment that promotes investment, innovation, job growth, education/workforce development and economic growth.

The Committee has developed public policy positions on the following issues:

1.    Energy Production in Washington State
2.    Healthcare
3.    Tax & Fiscal Policy
4.    Mid-Columbia Energy Initiative
5.    Transportation
6.    Education & Training
7.    Wage & Hour Reform
8.    Workers’ Compensation Reform
9.    Sales tax extension for Washington State’s Public Facilities Districts
10.    Providing mandatory notice and waiting periods before legislative action

Energy Production in Washington State
Washington’s energy policies and mandates increase the cost of energy and fail to maximize the use of our state’s abundant, renewable resources. Increased energy costs are passed on to the end users – Washington’s families and businesses. Additionally, the mandates within Washington’s EIA (Energy Independence Act) need to be modernized to meet new innovations. Legislation is needed to change the wording of the EIA to protect utility companies from purchasing power they do not need to serve their customers, thus avoiding unnecessary rate increases. Legislators must also look into emphasizing and incentivizing conservation - it is the lowest cost resource and most effective for the environment.

Healthcare
Washington has aggressively moved forward to implement the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Several provisions of the PPACA exceed Congressional direction and intent, and will ultimately jeopardize the viability of private health care options currently available to employers, as well as those who wish to purchase coverage from a private business outside of the state-run health exchange. The PPACA also includes several requirements that further segment the population into separate programs and increase financial pressures on the state. Legislation is necessary to eliminate structure elements that raise exchange administrative costs, duplicate services in the private market, exceed federal law, or jeopardize the private market. Expanding the choice of available health care options should also be considered.

Tax & Fiscal Policy
The current statewide taxing system is needlessly complicated as highlighted by the Department of Revenue’s (DOR) Tax Simplification Report in 2011. More than 200 cities have registration and licensing requirements and 39 cities administer their own local Business and Occupation (B&O) taxes. This requires businesses to file tax returns with both cities and the state, often with different classifications, definitions and deductions. Legislation, in part, is needed to require a uniform state and local B&O code that is applied consistently among jurisdictions; and that provides consistent taxation of business by permanently expanding tax incentives, such as high technology research.

Mid-Columbia Energy Initiative
Since its inception, the MCEI group has developed key objectives for promising opportunities including Small Modular Reactors, grid technology, economic bio-products production, clean and efficient transportation, and energy storage. The Tri-Cities seek to leverage their skilled workforce, assets, and natural resources to create an energy hub for the entire state that would be focused on the development of new innovative technologies and systems to meet the needs of the state, region and entire nation. Sustainable, clean energy should be at the core of any legislation.

Transportation
An efficient transportation system is the key to ensuring the Tri-Cities region continues as a hub for regional, national, and international commerce. The Tri-City Regional Chamber urges support to fund the following projects: Red Mountain Transportation Project, with access to Red Mountain AVA and the City of West Richland; the Duportail Bridge Project in Richland; Lewis Street Overpass Project in Pasco; Kennewick’s U.S. 395 Ridgeline Interchange and south UGA access; and completion of the U.S. 12 corridor between Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities. Legislation should support the development of all transportation investment funding proposals as statewide programs with allocation of funds on a geographic basis. Legislators should also support increased funding to enhance year around utilization of farm-to-market roads in the Tri-Cities region.

Education & Training
Like many states, Washington is confronted with a skills gap that threatens its economic future, limits job opportunities for residents, and prohibits employers from finding job candidates with the necessary skills to meet their needs. Schools and school districts still face too many barriers as they struggle to address student achievement; student, teacher and principal performance; and talent acquisition. Legislators must support state policies that encourage more innovative learning models and improve student achievement. Support is also needed for Washington State University – Tri-Cities; Columbia Basin College (CBC) and the Community and Technical Colleges (CTC) system; Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education; and affordable access to higher education.

Wage and Hour reform
Washington employers must follow the wage and hour and employment standards requirements of various state laws.  Additionally, the vast majority of Washington employers are also governed by similar federal laws; however, state and federal law don't always line up. Legislators need to promote consistency between state and federal wage and hour law when there is no clearly articulated, policy-based reason for more restrictive state standards. Legislators should avoid imposing a mandatory, one-size-fits-all sick leave policy on Washington business owners and their employees and allow employers to retain flexibility in setting compensation and benefits.

Workers’ Compensation Reform
Washington job creators have long been affected by a compulsory workers' compensation system that, among other systems nationwide, is expensive and administratively complex. All but the approximately 400 largest employers in Washington have no choice but to purchase workers' compensation coverage from a monopoly state fund, administered by the Department of Labor & Industries, and supported by tax rates that have increased by over 70 percent in the last ten years. Legislators need to, in part, bring the benefit levels more in line with those of other states and simplify the statutory formula for calculating wage benefits by adopting a flat rate applied to an employee's wage at time of injury.

Sales tax extension for Washington State’s Public Facilities Districts
Most of the Public Facilities Districts in Washington State receive .033% of the state’s portion of the sales tax collected within the district boundaries. The Kennewick Public Facilities District (KPFD), Richland Public Facilities District (RPFD), Pasco Public Facilities District (PPFD), and the Benton County Public Facilities District (BCPFD) all receive this funding, which helps build acceptable public facilities. According to Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 82.14.390(1) the amount of time each PFD can receive this funding is 25 years. Legislation is needed, in part, to allow PFD’s to continue receiving .033% of the state’s sales tax for an additional 15 years.

Providing mandatory notice and waiting periods before legislative action
Transparency and public disclosure in the legislative process is vital to a representative democracy. The purpose of public hearings is to respectfully hear from the public so that citizens are provided the opportunity to comment on proposed changes to state law. It should be the intent of the Legislature, therefore, to provide adequate notice before public hearings or votes so that citizens are able to participate in the legislative process in a meaningful way.

Download the full Legislative Objectives


The Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce represents nearly 1,300 businesses in the region.  The legislative priorities listed in the 2014 Public Policy Resource Guide have been approved by the Regional Chamber's Government Affairs Committee and Board of Directors.  These priorities set the direction for the Regional Chamber's advocacy efforts during the 2014 Legislative Session.

The Chamber is consistently advocating for the interests of member businesses.  For more information, contact the Regional Chamber at 509.736.0510 or
info@tricityregionalchamber.com.