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Offering hope for Washington's economy

Earlier this year I spoke with a friend who owns a small business. I could hear the pain in her voice as she explained that, after months of struggling, she was going to have to let some of her staff go.

I thought about her — and her employees — a lot during the 105-day legislative session.

Times are tough, and while much of the press attention has been on the state’s budget shortfall, we’ve also focused on laying the groundwork to create jobs and revive our economy. Despite some gloomy economic news, we’re making progress.

Helping workers and employers

The state lost nearly 100,000 jobs over the past year, so it’s fitting that this legislative session was bracketed by two crucial bills dealing with Washington’s unemployment insurance system.

First, we provided a $45 increase in weekly unemployment benefits and retraining assistance to help our neighbors who have lost their jobs so they can pay their mortgages, feed their families, and get training to find new jobs.

Fittingly, the final bill to pass the Senate provides relief for employers from the Unemployment Insurance taxes they pay. Senate Bill 5963 saves Washington employers nearly $400 million over the next five years to help them weather these tough times.

Living within our means

This year the state faced an unprecedented budget gap of $9 billion — a situation shared by 45 other states. That meant lawmakers had to cut spending and reduce services more than at any time in state history. The Legislature acknowledged the tough times we all face and balanced the budget without raising taxes. As we seek to pull out of this economic mess, now is a time for growing jobs — not growing taxes.

Providing regulatory relief for small businesses

We’ve been streamlining regulations for several years now, and Washington’s efforts were recently heralded as a national best practice by Forbes magazine. But we shouldn’t stop cutting red tape there. Small businesspeople work tirelessly to make ends meet. Navigating the maze of government regulations is burdensome enough without getting penalized for minor paperwork violations. We need to cut these employers some slack and help them grow. That’s why I passed a new law this year that will waive penalties for first-time paperwork violations, reducing the cost of doing business.

Setting a foundation for economic growth

In his inaugural address, President Obama said “We will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.”

This year, we took important steps to create that foundation. I passed Senate Bill 5045 to boost local economies by providing a way to invest in infrastructure like roads and sewers without raising taxes. The end result will be more jobs and better infrastructure by letting growth pay for itself.

Bremerton is one of seven Washington communities that will benefit from this new way to access capital, enabling the city to access $330,000 per year over the next 25 years for economic revitalization.

Investing in people

Our economic recovery strategy can’t be based on bricks and mortar alone. Washington’s workers, employers and competitiveness depend on investments in people. Unfortunately, economic hardships are forcing many businesses to scale back training opportunities just when workers need new skills to be more effective on the job. That’s why I passed a law that will reform Washington’s workforce training programs to get more bang for our buck.

Despite difficult cuts in higher education, we held the line on funding for enrollments in high-demand fields that lead to jobs. And we made an important gain for higher education in Kitsap County — securing funding to begin providing additional baccalaureate degree programs at Olympic College in partnership with a four-year university.

Our region has a clear need for more baccalaureate degrees to increase opportunities for students and employers. By adding 30 baccalaureate enrollment slots, we can take a great step in growing our region’s educational and economic future.

Our top job — growing jobs

These next few years may be challenging, but we will get through this. By focusing on our economic recovery and long-term growth, we’re turning things around.

(Editor’s Note: Derek Kilmer is the State Senator for the 26th Legislative District.)

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