The numerous bullet points on the Eastside chambers’ 2015 legislative agenda document can be boiled down to three: education, transportation, and economic development.
Of the three, education is first and foremost, says Ernie Simas, chairman of the East King County Chambers Legislative Coalition.
“We need some type of mechanism to fully fund education, where the legislation sends a message to the business community and the public in general that the state will provide reliable full funding to education,” says Simas, who also is the vice president of restaurant management group GIA Enterprises in Bellevue.
The coalition is closely following Senate Bill 5063, filed by Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, which would allocate two-thirds of all new taxes and other new revenue to education, he says.
Simas says the state not only needs to abide by the court-ordered mandate on education funding, but it’s the right thing to do for economic development in the state. The group also is pushing for construction projects for programs at the state’s college in Bothell, Bellevue, Renton, Kirkland, and Auburn.
“To me it’s quite simple. Without education, you don’t have economic development,” Simas says. “What good is a great transportation system, if you don’t have educated people creating the high technologies that are in our marketplaces?”
“Don’t get me wrong, we are feverishly lobbying for a transportation package and the completion of a 405 master plan,” the coalition’s lobbyist, Lincoln Vander Veen, adds.
The group also is pushing for projects to complete the State Route 520 connection to Seattle and the completion of projects on state routes 18 and 169, and supports a gas tax to fund these projects, Vander Veen says.
The East King County Chambers Legislative Coalition includes the chambers of commerce of Bellevue, Bothell, Issaquah, Kirkland, Maple Valley-Black Diamond, Newcastle, Redmond, Sammamish, Snoqualmie Valley, and Woodinville.
The group has been communicating with legislators since 1994 to make sure that Eastside business concerns are heard. Prior to the legislative session, the group hosted a breakfast at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue with Eastside legislators. The group also plans to meet with legislators in Olympia on Jan. 28.
The group also will press for the reinstatement of the High Technology Tax Credit, which expired Jan. 1. The incentive allowed high technology and manufacturing companies to claim credit against their B&O taxes for research and development activities.
“The perception that the R&D tax only credit benefits some larger companies Microsoft, Amazon — isn’t true,” Vander Veen says. “In Bellevue alone, 63 businesses took advantage of it.”
While Gov. Jay Inslee, in his State of the State address and his proposed budget, supported some of the ideas in the East King County Chambers Legislative Coalition, several of the governor’s outlined priorities — a state minimum wage boost that’s higher than inflation and creating a cap-and-trade plan — are items the coalition opposes, according to its Legislative agenda.
“I think, like anything, that’s a starting point for discussions,” Simas said. “We’re focusing on our three priorities in Olympia. The state of the state — it’s good fodder for discussions, but that’s for the legislators to decide. That’s why we elected them.”