Republican Senate candidate Dino Rossi sat at a gathering of a dozen Mid-Columbia business owners, surrounded by faces lined with worry, stress and fear.
They talked to him in a back room at the Country Gentleman in Kennewick about being overtaxed and overregulated, about wanting to expand but being afraid they will be penalized with more taxes and more regulations if they do.
Bill Lampson, owner of Lampson Cranes of Kennewick, said he won’t even think about expansion until some of the government regulations constraining him are lifted.
“People like me are not interested in hiring anymore not only because of the (economic) uncertainty, but because of the overregulation,” Lampson said.
Farm owner Brenda Alford of Pasco said she worries about the expiration of a cut to the federal estate tax and her family losing the land they farm after she and her husband die.
“The land is paid for in full. We pay a lot of property taxes,” she said. “Why when we die should the government get any of it? That land is for our children and grandchildren.”
Tony Benegas, a West Richland city councilman and co-owner with his wife of a small engineering firm in Richland, said the health care reform law passed this year is creating a nightmare of red tape for him.
“The health care bill is a disaster for us,” Benegas said. “I just want to be left alone to make money.”
Rossi said the concerns raised by the group of business owners aren’t new to him. He is hearing them from business owners across the state as he travels for his campaign against incumbent Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
“The No. 1 issue for most folks is jobs and the economy, feeding the kids and keeping a roof over their heads,” Rossi said. “What we’re finding is a bit of a theme. There are business owners who would like to grow … but they have no idea what their government is going to do to them next week. If they can’t plan, there’s no way they’re going to invest in equipment or knocking down a wall to expand.”
Rossi said the nation is on a “fiscal cliff,” and accused Murray of being one of the people who brought the economy to the brink with deficit spending and industry bailouts. He said he would extend tax cuts made by Congress in 2001 and 2003, repeal the health reform law and work to reduce burdensome regulations on business if elected.
He criticized Murray as being out of touch with the importance of the private sector to the country’s economic recovery.
“Patty Murray has never had a private sector job in her entire life,” Rossi said.
Julie Edwards, Murray’s campaign spokeswoman, said Murray has plenty of valuable real world experience serving on a school board, her parent teacher association and as a mother.
“I guess Mr. Rossi doesn’t think these are valuable experiences, but we disagree,” Edwards said.
Rossi also criticized Murray for being the “60th and deciding vote” on the health care bill, which he claimed is a “tax and spend bill with a little health care sprinkled on top.”
Edwards said Murray voted for the bill because it will protect vulnerable children and adults.
“Health care reform will make sure kids with pre-existing conditions can go to a doctor, that people who get sick can’t lose their insurance, and that young people can stay on their parents’ plans up to age 26,” she said. “This bill passed by an overwhelming majority of 60 votes and Mr. Rossi wants to repeal it and take these protections away.”
Bill Scott, who owns several Tri-City apartment complexes, cornered Rossi on immigration, saying he believes the government needs to reform immigration laws and provide a path to legal immigration rather than rounding up and deporting people who help support the economy.
“If you take them out of my apartment complexes, I’d go broke,” Scott said. “We need comprehensive reform, not just kicking folks out.”
Rossi said his approach to immigration is to have a “tall fence with a high gate.”
His grandparents came from Italy to raise their standard of living, and he would like to see other people have that opportunity, he said.
“We should let people come here who want to pursue the American Dream, but we need to know who’s coming,” he said. “We need to make sure there is a way for people to come to work and live, but to do it legally.”
The general election is Nov. 2.