Putting the focus back on increasing economic opportunity for all

In my column, I comment on the president’s State of the Union address and the shift in focus from inequality to opportunity. The new opportunity emphasis was previously discussed here and is examined in this New York Times story. I also highly recommend this Robert Samuelson column explaining why inequality is not the problem.

To create “ladders of opportunity,” lawmakers here have work to do. From the column:

Critically, then, lawmakers must focus their attention on creating opportunities for the unemployed to become employed, for the employed to advance, and for employers to succeed, adding jobs in their communities. Achieving these ends begins by improving the business climate, creating conditions conducive to private sector economic growth.

Some ideas being debated in Olympia could make things worse.

Legislation under consideration includes proposals to raise the nation’s highest minimum wage from $9.32 to $12 an hour, to require paid vacation and paid sick leave, and to increase labor costs by imposing an “employer responsibility penalty” on businesses with employees on state medical assistance programs. Passage of these measures will slow the already anemic pace of job creation and cost some people their jobs.

And some could help.

Gov. Inslee recommends extending a useful R&D credit otherwise scheduled to expire this year. Such a modest measure is commonplace in most states’ tax policies and should be made permanent here, home to one of the nation’s leading tech clusters. Additional changes in the state’s workers’ compensation system could reduce costs and promote better outcomes for injured workers.

Bipartisan agreement on transportation funding shouldn’t wait another year.

Progress on transportation remains sluggish, with a key senator suggesting a special session in December might do the trick. We’re not alone in our inability to reach agreement. Many states are struggling with infrastructure funding. The ones that get it right quickly will have a competitive advantage.

There’s still time in this short session for lawmakers to get the policy right. But not much time.

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