In Our View: Recovery Gains Steam

County, state show improvement; rating agencies are impressed

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For all the economic woes that have wafted around Clark County the past few years — even in recent months as we have sought to keep pace with the rest of the state and the nation during the recovery — take a moment to reflect on these two positive facts:

• In the first three months of 2013, Clark County residents spent $101.2 million on motor vehicles.

• In that same first quarter, 325 permits were issued to build single-family houses in our community.

Those statistics are ultra-impressive. They describe things local citizens can actually see: new cars and trucks and new homes. Of course, the numbers take on added meaning when placed in comparison with last year's data. That first bullet point reflects a 10.8 percent growth over the first quarter of 2012. The second stacks up as a whopping 24 percent jump.

Fine, you might add, but aren't we still lagging behind the rest of the state in this economic recovery? No, not by one measurement. In fact, we're making up lost ground, as shown by this fact reported in a recent Columbian story:

First-quarter taxable retail sales in Clark County grew 8.1 percent this year, while the same category statewide showed an 8.0 percent increase. One of the most powerful drivers in this economic recovery -- at both state and local levels -- is the diversity of economies. That broad variety of businesses, manufacturers and services keeps Washington and Clark County comfortably different than, say, Detroit.

Washington's steady and encouraging recovery is impressing powerful factions elsewhere, too. Two nationally renowned credit rating agencies -- Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Group -- announced on Monday that they have boosted Washington's rating to stable, up from the negative rating it's had since January 2012. State Treasurer Jim McIntire said the revisions will strengthen Washington "by generating stronger investor interest in our upcoming $860 million general obligation bond sale." McIntire also credited "the Legislature's willingness to take the actions necessary to pass a balanced budget for the 2013-15 biennium."

Also regarding this year's legislative session, The Spokesman-Review of Spokane explained that Standard & Poor's, which affirmed its 5-year-old stable rating of the state, was impressed by the lawmakers' strategy: "Only 11 percent of the solution to what had been a $2.6 billion budget gap relied on 'nonrecurring' items, such as borrowing money from a fund that will eventually have to be repaid."

Furthermore, the Spokane newspaper editorialized: "The haggling in Olympia may not have been pretty, but all three (rating) agencies noted the outcome was in keeping with Washington's constant monitoring of the overall state economy and willingness to adjust state spending response. … The state is a little heavy on debt, but light on unfunded pension obligations."

Another advantage our state enjoys is the absence of a state income tax. Although part of our state budget depends on the citizens' ability to spend money (sales tax), no part of our state budget depends on the citizens' ability to make money (income tax). Frequently, we suspect, Oregonians wish their state budget were not so dependent on the more volatile income tax.

Washington and Clark County still have a long way to go before this recovery can reach a meaningful pace, but first-quarter statistics confirm that we're certainly headed in the right direction.