In our view: Dead Battery, No Mechanic

Local economy looks good in spots, but politicians must do their part

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Buyers and businesses are the big players in the campaign to improve the local economy. The first group stimulates commerce, and the second group stimulates job creation. But these two groups can only do so much to make things better. Ultimately, the state and federal governments must do their parts. Unfortunately, those distant stakeholders aren’t holding up their ends of the deal. The battery is dead in Olympia, the gears are grinding in Washington, D.C., and no mechanics are in sight.The Legislature, which convened three weeks ago, has made little progress in overcoming a $1 billion-plus budget deficit. On the other coast, members of Congress continue to lock themselves deeper into the frozen confines of partisan paralysis.

Here at home, there are signs of economic recovery, but consider these words from Scott Bailey, regional analyst for the state Employment Security Department: “At best, 2012 will be another crummy year,” he said in a Jan. 22 Columbian story. The Southwest Washington economy “is still in deep trouble, and what we do locally is important but has limited impact. We need national action, and we haven’t been getting it.”

It’s past time for state and federal politicians to get their acts together, and here are a few fourth-quarter trends in our neck of the woods that could magnify the positive impact of their decisions:

• Home sales (new and pre-owned) were up 18.6 percent. Outlook reported in a Columbian analysis: Slight improvement.

• Port of Vancouver exports were up 9.2 percent. Outlook: Strong growth.

• Manufacturing wages increased 6.6 percent. Outlook: Stable.

• Also in the fourth quarter, home construction improved 5.1 percent. Outlook: Flat or slow growth.

• Retail sales climbed 3.4 percent. Outlook: Slowing growth.

Not bad, eh? But all that good news gets suffocated by the inertia spreading from Olympia and from inside the Beltway. If profound decisions about sustainable budgets are not made soon, the droplets of improvement in our region could be swept away by lingering economic woes such as these:

• The median home sale price in our area dropped 12 percent in the fourth quarter. Outlook: Poor.

• Bankruptcies increased 24.9 percent. Outlook: Slowing.

• The National Purchasing Managers Index (signals growth in manufacturing sector) dropped 7.9 percent. Outlook: Slowing growth.

If you’re a local business owner, these statistics offer glimmers of hope on the distant horizon. But if you’re a homeowner, or if you have children at home, or if you’re nearing retirement, you’re probably mired in despair.

None of this is new. As the recent Columbian analysis pointed out, this is the third consecutive fourth-quarter report showing only faint signs of recovery, offset by many signs of stagnation or decline.

Perhaps 2012 will be the year that budget reform and political progress becomes all the rage. But we’re not holding our breath. Perhaps another election or two will charge the battery.