2010 marks an economic crossroads for our state

From the Everett Herald:

We begin 2010 with a pretty severe hangover from 2009. The national economy is bouncing along the bottom, unemployment continues at record high levels, consumption is down, tax receipts are dwindling, and public services have been pulled back just when we need them the most. In short, all the “hope” of the 2008 elections has been dissipated in the economic implosion brought to us by Wall Street.

In our state, and especially in Everett, the Chicago-based Boeing Co. continues to play us for suckers. While congratulating Washington Machinists and engineers for the successful launch of the 787, Boeing is developing a second 787 assembly line in South Carolina. Aaron Reardon, the Snohomish County executive, couldn’t help piling on. In a recent op-ed, Reardon wrote “Washington is a very high-cost state and is not competitive.”

It is odd when a leading politician publicly declares that his state is not competitive, especially when that state, our Washington, is ranked by Forbes magazine as the second-best state for business. We achieved that ranking because our labor force is well educated, and more and more people are migrating to Washington. We are ranked No. 1 for future growth, thanks to “projected job, income and gross state product growth as well as business openings/closings and venture capital investments.”

Regardless of this, Reardon seems to want to shrink these advantages and have us look more like South Carolina. He wants to reduce unemployment compensation, right in the middle of the recession. He suggests cutting workers compensation benefits, when our current workers compensation system provides decent benefits at low cost, thanks to our state system that keeps private insurance companies from reaping profits off of workers’ injuries.

What Reardon suggests is that we embrace a race to the bottom, reducing wages and benefits while giving away more and more tax credits to global corporations. What’s next? Slash our minimum wage? Charge parents for K-12 education?

This may be the way to build a Third World economy, but it sure won’t build a better economy. It will instead put us ever more at the whim of corporate decision-making, whether that occurs in Chicago, Houston, Riyadh, London or Shanghai. What we should do instead in Washington is build on our own strengths and chart our own future.

This means that we need to enable all high school graduates to go to community college or a four-year public college. It means we must invest more in our K-12 system. We need to invest in community colleges around the state, and use Everett Community College’s model of integrating instruction with four-year colleges.

It means we must begin directing our own savings into local investments. There is no good reason that savings should be invested in corporations that create off-shore jobs to displace Washington workers. The State Investment Board needs to allocate a larger proportion of our pension and tax money to enable Washington state economic growth.

We could even follow North Dakota’s example by creating a state-owned bank that is dedicated to funding economic development throughout Washington. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bank that actually works for us? And while we are at it, why not invest in our local credit unions? By keeping currency circulating within our economy, we keep building economic activity within our state.

We have tremendous resources that no other state or country can claim. We have hundreds of thousands of educated and skilled workers who know aircraft development, health care technology, high tech development and software development. We have an education system ready to fill the demand for even more of these educated workers and citizens. We live in a great area of the country, surrounded by mountains and Puget Sound, providing a good and healthy quality of life.

For the past 75 years, through economic development and public policy advances, Washington has replaced desperation with hope and opportunity. The question for us to answer in 2010 is whether we want to reverse this progress, becoming victims of global corporate forces. Or do we want to embrace our traditions and advance further — combining economic prosperity with a strong middle class citizenry, able to enjoy and participate in productive and meaningful lives? The choice is ours to make.

Happy New Year!

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