Chamber members visit Olympia to learn about legislative priorities

Business: More than sightseeing, annual trip is a way to get informed about statewide issues

of the GatewayFebruary 19, 2014 

Chamber members visited Olympia to learn about Legislature.

STEVE BLOOM/THE OLYMPIAN FILE

The Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce had its annual bus trip to the state capitol on Thursday. The group made the trek from Cottesmore of Life Care to Olympia to sit down with representatives, policy advisers and others.

It was the 32nd day of the 60-day session in the capitol, and discussion steered toward local business, education and transportation — all legislative priorities for the chamber.

The group met with two of Gov. Jay Inslee’s advisers and then headed to the Senate Rules Room to hear from department heads and others. Lunch was with Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, and Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor.

Mitch Anderson, treasurer of the chamber, said the trip is a chance to hear what is going on in the Legislature.

The group started in Inslee’s conference room with David Westbrook, the governor’s South Sound regional representative, and Kelly Ogilvie, senior policy adviser for Working Washington.

Jay Richards, who recently opened a Carl’s Jr. in Olympic Village, shared concerns about his workers. The restaurant opened about two weeks ago.

Richards said raising the minimum wage — and raising the gas tax — wouldn’t help his workforce, who have trouble keeping gas in their tanks.

Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, was the first to stop by the Senate Rules Room. Kristiansen said he didn’t see the Legislature as a partner when he started out as a business person years ago. Instead, he saw it as an adversary. He told chamber members that the Legislature partner with them.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn talked about the McCleary decision, a ruling from the state Supreme Court that orders the Legislature to fully fund basic education.

“I think the very basis of McCleary is there’s a state responsibility,” Dorn said.

He said the landscape of education is changing, and students need to learn digital communication. That’s a role some schools can’t provide if they don’t have access to computers or electronic devices.

“When kids leave us, they should be skilled up,” Dorn said.

Things were slightly tense when State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler stopped by the meet the visitors.

Transportation projects are at the heart of Gig Harbor’s businesses. Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson offered an overview of WSDOT, which has been rocked by problems with the state Route 520 bridge.

“There’s a whole new face at (the department),” Peterson said. “Public involvement is going to be the basis of everything that we do.”

She said the department will steer away from making decisions on the public’s behalf in a new era of public involvement.

Stan Flemming, a chamber member who represents Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula as an elected Pierce County Council member, said public input is important on projects that include tolls.

Kris Johnson of the Association of Washington Businesses said he was happy to see Gig Harbor visit. So far, chamber members from the Tri-Cities and Spokane have stopped by.

Johnson said the AWB’s priorities are transportation, workers’ compensation reform and regulatory reform. He said having a presence in the Legislature is important for businesses, and he encouraged chamber members to testify, if they’re invited.

Real stories make a difference, he said.

“If you’re not here to tell your story, trust me, the other side is,” he said.

Sen. Andy Hill, who sits on the Ways and Means and the Early Learning and K-12 committees, stopped by to talk about education, among other topics. He said he wasn’t shocked by the court’s McCleary decision, but he added the court “clearly doesn’t understand how budgets work.”

Angel has been busy, too. She said she now spends more time on committees, and that cuts into her time with constituents.

“It’s the law of the land,” Angel said of the Affordable Care Act. “Obviously, it still has many, many issues.”

Young, who was appointed to Angel’s seat in the House after she was elected to the Sentate, said he’s already made a few waves. Mainly, he’s been working on IT issues. He said he sees the Pacific Northwest, and the South Sound, as “Silicon Valley 2.”

Angel does not support raising the gas tax. She said she sees hardworking people at gas stations who scrounge to put $10 in their tank.

She also doesn’t support raising the state minimum wage because she said it would have a concussion effect on business owners.

“It pushes up from the bottom, and it will not work,” Angel said.

The chamber members saw local legislators in action with trips to both the Senate and House galleries.

Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at karen.miller@gateline.com. Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_karen.

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