This guest op/ed is by Democratic state Rep. Tim Probst (D-17), who's running against incumbent Sen. Don Benton (D-17) in one of the most competitive---and ugly---races in Washington State. 

We can get our economy back on track if we acknowledge three basic truths. First, economic policy shouldn’t be treated as a political football—the economy is not a partisan issue, and partisan bomb-throwing won't solve our problems.

Second, a sound economy requires us to focus on quality, as well as cost.

And third, our working families aren't a drag on the economy. Just the opposite: our people are our most important economic asset.

The Great Recession, and the sluggish recovery that has followed, has caused hardship across Washington. But nowhere was the impact more pronounced than in Southwest Washington, where I have represented the people of the 17th Legislative District in the House of Representatives since 2008.

When the recession set in, the average income in Clark County dropped by more than $3,500 per household. Real people and real working families across the Vancouver area are having a tough time making ends meet, and they expect results from Olympia. That's why I consulted with business and community leaders in my district to develop a concrete plan of we can pass in the next legislative session help fix our budget, economy and our politics.  It will help get our economy back on the right track, and. I hope, strengthen public trust in our political system.

First, we need to do more to improve our business environment. Streamlining the regulatory environment, if done correctly, will encourage business growth and job creation while continuing to protect our environment and quality of life. So we should applying lean manufacturing techniques to the state regulatory environment to create greater certainty and faster permitting decisions, and more strongly support our high-tech industries, small businesses, and exporters.

We also need to recognize that the foundation of our economy is the work ethic, education, and job skills of our people. Currently, our education debates are polarized between charter school proponents and detractors. But there is a lot more to education reform than charter schools, including much we can all agree on.

For example, we can significantly improve the responsiveness and effectiveness of our educational system by passing the Career Pathways Act and replicating the Student Achievement Initiative. The Career Pathways Act passed the House with an overwhelming bipartisan majority last year, but stalled in the Senate.  It makes sure our high schools and middle schools tell students about their career options at all levels—including technical degrees, skilled trades, and university degrees—and establish clear voluntary pathways leading to each. Each student has his or her own unique talents and goals, all work has dignity and value, and our economy has skill gaps at all levels. Recognizing that reality in our school system just makes sense.

What if I told you a single education reform could increase graduation and degree attainment by 42% in just four years? The Student Achievement Initiative has done just that. It was created by Washington’s Community and Technical Colleges, and is now considered a model for replication across the nation.  I believe we should ask our high schools and universities to implement similar models, as well. It works. Let's get it done.

We also need a sharper focus on building up what I call our ABC industries: Advanced manufacturing and aerospace; Biosciences and health care; Computer technology and silicon; and other export-driven industries.  Focusing on the ABC industries recognizes that exports bring money into our economy from other states and nations, which in turn creates capital and customers for all businesses.  So by focusing on the ABC industries, we help all of our businesses grow. The ABC industries are research-dependent, so we should use existing state capital budget funds to establish research parks—at WSU Vancouver, and in other Washington communities—to make sure that university research turns into secure private-sector jobs for our people.

Let's provide a tax credit for companies that create new jobs in the ABC industries. Not corporate giveaways, but a credit with strict accountability measures to ensure credits only go to companies who create measurably create good, secure jobs for Washington State residents.

And we should find a way to remove protections that allow politicians to lie during campaigns without penalty, and introduce reforms to reduce the influence of money in politics. This could help reduce the partisan divisiveness, which is distracting us from fixing our economy.
Finally, we need to increase accountability for elected officials.  I've proposed a "No Budget, No Pay," requirement, barring legislators from taking daily “per diem” payments during special legislative sessions called because they failed to pass a budget on time.

As a former budget analyst and former CEO of a private-sector nonprofit, I entered public service to get deliver real results for Washington families. In my first four years in the state House, I passed reforms to train 9,000 people for new jobs, created college scholarships for middle-class students in high-demand fields, cut red tape for small businesses, and created business internships for high school students to get work experience.

But we still have a long way to go, and I think the agenda I’ve laid out above sets out a pathway to make things better, inch by inch, year by year.  It won’t fix our economy overnight, but it's realistic progress. So let's put partisanship aside, and work together to make Washington the place where the world's best companies find the world's best people, and let's build the fastest-growing middle class in the world, right here at home.
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