Session preview: Business writer sees challenges for employers in coming session

Business writer Bill Virgin identifies challenges Washington employers can expect in the coming legislative session.

…across Washington, business owners and managers brace themselves for what’s coming next.

It’s not challenging enough to run a business these days in Washington, with the usual issues of competition, technology-driven shifts, changing customer tastes, finding skilled workers, congestion and freight mobility, energy costs and trade disputes, not to mention the current worry that economic growth might sputter out. To those have been added government-driven burdens and directives – higher minimum wages and paid family and medical leave are the big-ticket items, but hardly the only ones – that make this region of the country an increasingly expensive place to operate.

He acknowledges,

…it could be worse, what with repeated efforts via initiative and legislation to impose some sort of tax on the production and use of fossil fuels (you know, the ones that do minor tasks like heat and light your home, power your car and run industrial processes). Those proposals have to date been thwarted, and in view of the substantial vote against the last initiative there appears to be little clamor to charge that (pardon the alt-energy allusion) windmill again, but there are still true believers who will argue that with just a little more persuasion voters can be made to see the error of their ways.

Then he runs down the now-familiar list of items on the 2019 legislative agenda, including a proposed capital gains tax, a 67% increase in the B&O tax on service businesses, and changes in the real estate excise tax.

He offers a worthwhile response to critics who say Washington’s tax and regulatory policies must be OK because the state economy is thriving.

The current success of the tech sector, however loosely that’s defined, certainly fueled economic growth in the region. But other sectors are struggling for reasons of their own (retailing) or related to the boom (industrial businesses dealing with high costs). Tech’s boom has papered over a lot of ills, and if the sector ever has another moment like the dot-com bust, that facade will be gone.

Already one group has been taking the relocation option – homebuyers who, looking for something they can afford, have been moving ever farther out. Most businesses can’t pick themselves up and move so easily. They find strategies to cope with the hassles and costs of operating where they are to reap the benefits – access to ports and airports, proximity to suppliers, customers or a pool of labor.

But those strategies don’t work indefinitely…

The provocative column raises points that lawmakers should consider in the coming weeks.