In Our View: Rally Needs Politicians, Too

Some decisions by elected officials actually work against the recovery

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Economic statistics for Clark County were encouraging in the second quarter of 2013 (April, May, June). A Sunday Columbian story by Gordon Oliver included several bar graphs that compellingly quantified the rally.

But we wonder if state and county politicians actually understand what's going on, and if they're capable of or willing to embrace and encourage this economic recovery.

When our state is brought to the front porch of a financial revival — clearly the case now — but the Legislature cannot produce a meaningful transportation plan, Washingtonians justifiably wonder if their legislators are signatories in the solution or part of the problem. Long-overdue road and bridge projects, left ignored, serve as an economic depressant, not a stimulant.

Likewise, when Clark County is poised for a serious revival and county commissioners snip funding to the Columbia River Economic Development Council, folks wonder if the politicians are on board or waiting back at the station. Cutting investments in job creation is yet another economic depressant.

Both of those scenarios have unfolded this year, and as Oliver wrote in his Sunday story, business and politics are deeply intertwined in Clark County and across our state. Despite the two political misfires described above, consider the statistics presented in Sunday's story. The local median home sales price, home construction, global semiconductor sales, bridge crossings and population all have increased over the second quarter of 2012.

Especially noteworthy are the 21.5 percent boost in home sales and a 24 percent jump in home construction.

Economic recoveries are not about just statistics, however. Nuances are at play. Images play a role. Branding becomes crucial. With that in mind, let's review what Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick said two months ago about the county commissioners cutting development fees: "When you go and put your prices at zero, the kind of message you are sending out there (is) you don't truly believe in your product." As if the county commissioners who made the decision don't believe in Clark County's high quality of life.

"Typically, when you are out in the market, you don't set your price down to zero unless you don't have a good product," Van Nortwick added. But here in our community, we do have a good product.

Van Nortwick also wondered about "jobs that would have come anyway."

Republican County Auditor Greg Kimsey pointed out at the same meeting that county commissioners really have no idea if increased sales tax revenue will compensate for the loss of revenue from development fees.

These kinds of risky, flimsy experiments have no place in an economic recovery. Nor does the Legislature's troubling inability to advance improvements in transportation infrastructure.

We have faith in the resilient economies of America, Washington and Clark County. If only we had that same level of faith in the politicians' ability to participate in the recovery with open-minded, aggressive and innovative strategies.