Lake Stevens Journal - Your hometown newspaper since 1960


By Don C Brunell
Pres. Assoc. Of Wa Business 

A new way of looking at things


January 10, 2011

It’s been said that during the worst of times, things get fixed. That adage is certainly ringing true in 2011.

Our crushing financial crisis at all levels of government is sending shock waves through the halls of government these days bringing elected officials to their senses about spending. While the voting public was far ahead of the politicians and bureaucrats in ringing the alarm bell, the message has finally gotten through.

Legislatures around the country are slowing the rate of spending by necessity, and voters sent a clear message last November that times are tough and government and public employees must make some sacrifices.

Simply put, voters want governments to do more with less, and do it differently. For example, Gov. Gregoire has proposed consolidating 21 state agencies into nine, a move that could save nearly $30 million over the next two years. She rightly called out the fact that too many agencies have jurisdiction over the same thing.

For example, if a farmer, contractor, homeowner, business or even government itself seeks permission to operate in or around a stream, they run the gauntlet of agencies issuing a permit. Too often, those agencies have conflicting standards. Consequently, taxpayers lose valuable time and lots of money just going through permitting.

The governor and lawmakers need to consolidate the authority and implement one-stop permitting. They need to breakdown the entrenched fiefdoms that bounce people seeking permits around like iron balls in a pinball machine.

This change in thinking is long overdue at every level of government, from your local city council on up to Congress.

Case in point: During the Bush administration, the Federal Highway Administration developed a new regulation requiring every city and town in the nation to change their street signs.

The rule, part of the Administration’s 800-plus page Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, tells local governments they:-- Should increase the size of the letters on street signs from the current 4 inches to 6 inches on all roads with speed limits over 25 miles per hour by January 2012—Install signs with new reflective letters more visible at night by January 2018— And, whenever street name signs are changed for any reason, they can no longer be in ALL CAPS.

Apparently the change is being driven by our aging population. A study conducted nearly 15 years ago of two dozen 70+ year-old drivers suggested that older drivers recognize mixed-case street signs about 12 percent more quickly than all upper-case signs. That’s all the bureaucracy needed to change every sign in America.

Touted as a safety measure, the rule is actually a testament to the lobbying skills of the American Traffic Safety Services Association, a group that represents sign manufacturers.

It’s also a blatant example of a government add-on that would be nice to have, but right now, we as taxpayers can’t afford it.

Fortunately, the Obama Administration has come out against the proposal. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has promised to seek public comment on the regulation, the first step in a process that could lead to its repeal.

Sadly, were we not in the grip of a fiscal crisis, this costly unfunded mandate might have gone unnoticed .

Sometimes, though, hard times present opportunities.

The lesson here is clear: Our severe fiscal crisis is devastating, but it can also provide opportunities to take a fresh look at what we do and how we do it.

About the Author: Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business. Formed in 1904, the Association of Washington Business is Washington’s oldest and largest statewide business association, and includes more than 7,100 members representing 650,000 employees. AWB serves as both the state’s chamber of commerce and the manufacturing and technology association. While its membership includes major employers like Boeing, Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser, 90 percent of AWB members employ fewer than 100 people. More than half of AWB’s members employ fewer than 10. For more about AWB, visit


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