Former Washington Auditor Who Championed Good Government, Wins National Honor

April 13, 2013 

The man had a vision and now he’s being recognized for it.

Former Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag, who is in retirement this year after superb performances in five terms, has won a prestigious national honor. That would be induction into the Heroes of the 50 States: The State Open Government Hall of Fame.

Mr. Sonntag stood out as the epitome of state-government transparency. Yes, as an elected official, he had an unparalleled vision.

Count me as a fan – not only as a citizen and business consultant, but as a columnist who interviewed him on multiple occasions as the “Biz Coach” on and two other Washington media Web sites; as well as the host of “Washington Business Weekly,” the Association of Washington Business radio program.

It can’t be over-stated. He was a conscientious public servant dedicated to doing the right thing for taxpayers.

WPC weighs in

His award drew praise from a state public-policy think tank, Washington Policy Center (WPC).

“Sonntag has also been a strong advocate for Washington Policy Center’s proposed legislative transparency reforms,”said Jason Mercier, director, for WPCs Center for Government Reform. “NFOIC’s acknowledgment of Sonntag’s long-time support for open government is well deserved.”

His selection was announced by the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).

The State Open Government Hall of Fame is a joint venture by SPJ and NFOIC. It was developed by leaders in both organizations as a way to recognize long-term contributions of individuals to open government in their states.

Induction into the State Open Government Hall of Fame recognizes “long and steady effort to preserve and protect the free flow of information about state and local government that is vital to the public in a democracy.” The award is intended to honor individuals – living or dead – whose lifetime commitment to citizen access, open government and freedom of information has left a significant legacy at the state and local level.

When Mr. Sonntag announced his intention to retire, it was a sad day for the state.

To review history and a record of his achievements, here’s what I wrote here on this portal:

No Lame Duck, Washington Official Enhances Economic Public Policy

Oct. 20, 2011  

Like all inspiring great leaders, he and his staff are tenacious in delivering value for all of Washington. Who? State Auditor Brian Sonntag.

Mr. Sonntag is a favorite on this portal, a sagacious Democratic, who has consistently delivered value to state residents, and has always been available to answer questions. Admittedly, I was a bit melancholy about Mr. Sonntag’s announced retirement in 2012.

He has served constituents well, particularly, with his agency’s performance audits and initiatives in improving state-government performance.

And to the end, he continues to do what’s best for the state. He’s working to enhance entrepreneurship, which will help put the state on sound economic footing.

Another favorite entity is Washington Policy Center (WPC). The think tank also provides noteworthy analysis and timely updates.

blog by Jason Mercier is how I learned Mr. Sonntag has been focusing on business regulations to enhance Washington’s economic environment for the creation of jobs. 

Mr. Mercier cites a salient assessment of the state’s regulatory processes in the state auditor’s March 2011 report.

A few highlights:

The complexity of Washington State’s regulatory system creates costs for governments and businesses alike. Not only are there many regulations, but many requirements change every year or two based on new legislation or state agency amendments to existing rules. The Office of the Code Reviser reports that in 2009 alone, state agencies proposed more than 14,000 pages of new or revised rules. 

  • Many regulatory costs to business are fixed, with larger firms able to spread those costs over a greater number of employees, meaning that small businesses bear a disproportionate part of the regulatory burden. A 2007 Department of Revenue study on the business survival rate in Washington found that ‘taxes and costs of complying with government regulations are factors that contribute to business failure because most small businesses are not profitable in the early years.’ (BSSUG, 2007

This is a noteworthy conclusion:

  • Improving the effectiveness of Washington’s regulatory regime through streamlining, clear rule writing, reducing the administrative burden, and other innovations will benefit businesses, state government and taxpayers in general. Clear, fair and efficient regulations will keep Washington competitive in the global economy.”

In his blog, Mr. Mercier indicates we can look forward to five Sonntag performance audits:

  1. Agency efforts to streamline their administrative rules
  2. Agency permit process time
  3. State regulations in excess of federal regulations and the value added for the extra regulation
  4. Agency inspection process and coordination amongst agency inspections
  5. Effectiveness and opportunities for improvement for the state’s one-stop portal for business regulations.

As a result of WPC’s September 2011, the Legislature is getting feedback from small business (What Do Small Business Owners Need from Washington State Policymakers?).

The state’s small businesses want the following:

  1. Review environmental regulations to ensure that Washington rules don’t exceed federal regulations
  2. Legislature should not grant general rule making authority to agencies, but rather be specific about rules to be put in place
  3. Legislature should listen to and follow up on State Auditor Office reports on regulatory reform (tie)
  4. Sunset provisions for regulations (tie)

So a Biz Coach tip of the hat to Mr. Sonntag and his team, as well as to WPC. It’s past time to evolve from an adversarial state government-business relationship to one of effective public policy for economic development.

Frustration is trying to find your glasses without your glasses. 


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry. 

How Washington Fails in Filmmaking for Economic Development

Updated Feb. 4, 2012

Film-production workers, actors, and movie fans are suffering the same fate as many businesspeople in Washington state. They are sleepless in Seattle now that the Legislature has canceled its successful program of incentives for production studios in filmmaking.

In 2009, this space congratulated the state for offering a 30-percent tax incentive. During this year’s legislative session, I received almost daily updates from Washington Filmworks regarding its lobbying activities. I never dreamed the Legislature would kill the incentives. It was a stellar approach to economic development. This stunned me.

After all, the state has a troubled economy. Filmmaking creates jobs while enhancing the state’s image. Movies entertain and inspire moviegoers. And the incentives didn’t hurt the state’s treasury – canceling them would.

But effective in 2011, the Legislature killed the incentive program. You can almost envision planeloads of filmmakers flying over the state to make movies in Canada. Enlightened Vancouver still offers advantageous tax breaks to attract film projects. So does Oregon.

For economic development, it doesn’t take a study for me to realize the benefits of filmmaking to the state. Ostensibly, lawmakers see it differently. They think the state will benefit more from by providing incentives for startups in other industries.

Lawmakers fail to understand that the state would not lose anything by continuing the incentives and everything to gain. Published reports of Washington Filmworks’ data indicate some $5.4 million in incentives produced 23 projects last year and $18 million in spending. So consider the multiplier effects.

Nor do lawmakers understand a salient, intangible return on the investments.

Consider: The misery index in Washington is high. The morale among residents in many quarters of the state is low. However, the presence of a film crew on location inspires interest. Movie star sightings are invigorating for movie fans and TV watchers. It’s a mini-fantasy, a vacation from financial woes.

During a downturn in the late 1970s from my office window on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles, I witnessed a most-astonishing site: Waves of excited people – thousands of office workers – flooded the street to watch Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers act in front of cameras for an episode of the hit TV show, “Hart to Hart.”

Incalculable image value

It was 35 years ago this month as a radio news director, I covered an event that drew scores of reporters from all over the world to Rancho Mirage, Calif. Frank Sinatra was marrying Barbara Marx. All those reporters waited outside in scorching 118-degree weather for hours just to witness the wedding party of stars and dignitaries leave the ceremony. National media, including the NBC/NIS radio network, eagerly welcomed my freelance reports.

So for me today, any thought of revoking film tax incentives prompts me to react this way: “What a revolting development this is.”

You might recall it was the signature phrase of the character, Chester A. Riley in “The Life of Riley” in a radio show from 1944-1951 and TV show from 1949-1950 and 1953-1958. William Bendix acted as Chester Riley, whom I happily met and to whom I once served food as a teenage bus boy in Palm Springs.

My sense is that all states should keep the tax incentives in place. (Admittedly, I’m predisposed to understand the benefits. In addition to my journalism background, I’ve produced and voiced hundreds of TV commercials.)

For the first time in California’s history, state lawmakers approved a $500 million incentive plan starting in 2009. It included tax credits ranging from 20 to 25 percent. But even that was a bit paltry compared to other states. But California lawmakers knew they had to compete.

As a kid growing up in Palm Springs, it was common to see movie stars such as Mr. Bendix, Lucille Ball and Dean Martin. Although I come from a middle class family, Bob Hope and James Stewart maintained homes less than a block away. It was quite an experience watching Mr. Hope wash his Chrysler. Once, I nearly hyperventilated when he spoke to my brother and me when we were playing in the street after a rainstorm – sailing Popsicle sticks in a puddle.

Later, as an 11-year-old newspaper boy delivering The Desert Sun newspaper, my customers included impresario Billy Rose, comedian Jack Benny, and movie mogul Darryl Zanuck. Each month, it was fun standing outside waiting to be paid by Mr. Zanuck – he threw frequent pool parties with a bevy of starlets.

Serious business

Aside from the fun and glamour of filmmaking, it’s a serious business.

The Washington Filmworks’ program worked this way:

  • Washington Filmworks is a private non-profit that offered cash back in a 30 day-incentive.
  • Washington state businesspeople received business and occupation tax deductions and a source for passive income from their investments.
  • Productions were required to spend $500,000 for feature films, $300,000 for TV shows per episode, and $150,000 for commercials.
  • Filmmakers had to apply with a script, line item budget, proof of funding, a finance plan, and a producer’s letter of intent.
  • Washington Filmworks’ board would either approve or reject the project.

In addition, the Seattle Office of Film + Music offered $25 a day permits when using city owned property. The filmmakers were exempt from sales and use taxes on rental of production equipment, and sales tax on the purchase of production services, unless the production equipment was purchased.

But now, we are sleepless in Seattle for dubious reasons.

We are telling filmmakers we no longer welcome their business. It reminds me of a line in “Rocky IV” during Rocky Balboa’s patented comeback against a superior opponent. Sportscaster Barry Tompkins asserted: “It’s a question of who wants it most.”

In real life, Mr. Tompkins still works as a sportscaster. His line is apropos today. Washington state lawmakers are throwing in the towel. Let’s hope Washington Filmworks is more successful telling their story at the next legislative session.

From the Coach’s Corner, for more information on filmmaking see these helpful Web sites:

“A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.”
Groucho Marx


Columnist Terry Corbell is also a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services (many are available online). For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule Terry Corbell as a speaker, why don’t you contact him today?

What and Whom Deserve your Vote Nov. 6, 2018?

If you want to continue the strong economic climate and job creation, and freedom from bad public policy and public officials, obviously it’s time to act this year.

This is a critical time.

What is decided at the polls will affect us now and our grandchildren, too, when they’re in the business world.

xedos4So this is the most succinct business-coaching article ever published here on this site.

The message is simple.

Please do your homework.

Naturally, you can always count on us here at The Biz Coach to monitor and research public-policy issues and provide timely insights in our  Public Policy Category.

Discuss these issues with your associates, friends and relatives. Get involved. Volunteer your services for the right causes.

Then vote by Tuesday, Nov. 6.

From the Coach’s Corner, for all the right information about a healthy economic climate in Washington state, visit these Web sites:

— Washington Policy Center (

— Association of Washington Business (

This all about knowing and implementing what’s important for economic development and job creation. You’ll be glad you did.

“Democracy is the only system that persists in asking the powers that be whether they are the powers that ought to be.”

 -Sydney J. Harris 


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Photo courtesy xedos4 at

The Key to Maximizing Economic Potential: Managing Ignorance

Here’s a premise on which most businesspeople and educators probably can agree: the legendary Peter Drucker, Ph.D. – as a writer, teacher and consultant – was the ultimate as a business-role model.

Surprisingly, he surprisingly had some periodic critics in education.

He preferred Claremont Graduate University and reportedly turned down four professorship offers from Harvard.

At the age of 95 in a published interview in 2004, he was asked if he had any regrets about his work.

His response:

“There are many books I could have written that are better than the ones I actually wrote. My best book would have been “Managing Ignorance,” and I’m very sorry I didn’t write it.”

File:Drucker-portrait-bkt 1014.jpg

 Dr. Peter Drucker

He was a voracious reader, wonderful inspiration to millions, and he lived a long, rich life. As one of my heroes, I selfishly wish he lived longer – he passed away Nov. 11, 2005. His teachings have particular significance for me.

If given the opportunity for an interview, with great delectation I would have relished the visionary’s analysis on numerous fronts regarding the economy.

That includes these four developments:

No. 1: Decrease in educated Americans. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education has issued some disturbing news in a policy alert, which is entitled, “Income of U.S. Workforce Projected to Decline if Education Doesn’t Improve.” It calls on the 50 states to do a better job in education to prevent a projected decline in worker skills in order to brighten the future of America’s economy.

The public policy group contends the American workforce is undergoing major change; especially the core of workers, age 25 to 64. Until at least 2020, the study shows worker wages will continue to decrease. Simultaneously, the number of workers with high school and college diplomas will decline exponentially.

Why? The number of educated white workers will drop from 82 percent to 63 percent while the number of less educated minorities will increase from 18 percent to 37 percent.

No. 2: Decline in math and science. America’s expertise in science and technology is fast deteriorating, according to a study by the National Academy of Sciences. The report was written by a group of top corporate executives, educators and scientists and is entitled, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.”

In essence, the panel of experts sets four goals:

  • Improve math and science education in grades K-12.
  • A more cordial milieu for science for college and post graduate studies.
  • Increase federal funding for scientific research.
  • Encourage the growth of family-wage jobs in evolving industries with tax incentives and other fiscal tools.

It wasn’t surprising that the report identified two Asian countries, India and China, as among the nations that will surpass the U.S. in job creation and innovation.

No. 3: The quandary over China. The U.S. is appeasing China to excess, according to economist and professor of international business at the University of Maryland, Peter Morici.

“These policies impose huge trade deficits and unemployment on the United States, create enormous imbalances in the global economy, and contribute importantly to the Great Recession,” he wrote in a commentary Oct. 8, 2005.

He is on a quest to educate America about China’s approach, as evidenced years ago in a 2005 e-mail to me: “To secure its supply of oil, extend its influence and solidify internal security, the Chinese government is building a blue-water navy and spending massively to modernize its army.

More than a decade later, what’s changed? By even us advocates of free trade, it is hard to ignore the professor’s conclusions.

“That means targeted trade sanctions if China does not revalue its yuan and does not respect intellectual property, and if it exploits worker rights to achieve export advantages or otherwise breaks the norms and rules it acknowledged by joining the World Trade Organization, International Labor Organization and other international organizations,” he said.

“Arrogance is being proud of ignorance.”

-Dr. Peter Drucker

“It’s time to face up to the fact that China, rather than evolving into a democratic society with a market economy, could just as easily morph into a fascist menace with global reach,” he said. “Appeasement didn’t work for Britain dealing with Germany in the 1930s, and it is not working for America with China now.”

Could Dr. Drucker have related to Dr. Morici’s analogy? Who knows? But when the Nazis banned and burned one of his essays in the 1930s, Dr. Drucker fled to England. He argued against the appeasement of Germany by England.

No. 4: Creation of jobs. Three-fourths of all the planet’s new jobs will be generated by just 9.8 percent of new businesses, according to a research organization, Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), in its assessment of entrepreneurship in 39 countries.

While women entrepreneurs are a major force in America, most of these anticipated startups are to be launched by well-educated men aged 25-34 years with high incomes in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Ostensibly, monetary trade issues and the pressures of an uneducated workforce will apparently vex a major economic engine – the world’s startup entrepreneurs.

So, how would Dr. Drucker analyze such developments?

For starters, consider:

In his book, “Managing for results,” he wrote: “Waste runs high in any business. Man, after all, is not very efficient. Special efforts to find waste are therefore always necessary.”

And while training the board of directors of an organization, I was reminded once again that his writings are a great resource. In answering a question about how I continually evaluate my efficiency, I told the audience that I never end my day’s work until I assess my activities. That is one of my daily efforts thanks, in part, to the management pioneer.

In “Management Challenges for the 21st Century,” Dr. Drucker suggested that it is important for a manager to know the answer the question, “Where do I belong?”

But to answer that career dilemma, he pointed out it is actually necessary for a person to know the answers to three questions:

  1. What are my strengths?
  2. How do I perform?
  3. What are my values?

What a wonderful scholar. In my experience as a business practitioner and journalist, I know he was right.

Candidly, as a management consultant, I meet few managers and staff in the workplace who innately know to ask and answer such questions. But after they’re trained in how to accurately assess their strengths and weaknesses, they benefit from an average 30 percent increase in self esteem. As a result, organizations progress nicely as their managers and workers perform much better.

By the way, for many years in HR training classes, I’ve quoted this Dr. Drucker statement: “Arrogance is being proud of ignorance.”

In other words, continual study and evaluation will help a person to avert complacency.

If every businessperson practiced these principles, promoted education and focused on managing ignorance, the economic outlook would be brighter.

From the Coach’s Corner, more thoughts on learning and education:

“An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t.”

-Anatole France


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Analysis: Steps for Economic Success in Washington State


July 29,2009 –


In assessing economic-development strategies, it’s shortsighted to merely look at the headlines. But you can tell a lot about the economy by taking a cursory look at the unemployment rate. Unfortunately, Washington ranks No. 34 in the nation – tied with Missouri at 9.3 percent.

How can government brighten the unemployment picture? The effectiveness of economic policies depends on government and whether it has economic wisdom. That means allowing for economic and political liberties.

Economic liberty is the freedom to make decisions in a free-enterprise system. Political liberty is possible when government stops its unproductive practices so entrepreneurs can have the necessary tools to create jobs and take full responsibility for their successes or failures.

Here are economic strategies for government to consider:

Discernment of Main Street’s issues. Listen to business. This column warned about economic conditions long before the recession was recognized. My confidential discussions with businesses revealed an undercurrent of pending economic chaos long before the recession was publicly acknowledged.

Encourage consensus building among stakeholders, including business and unions. Adversarial relationships and chest-beating fail to create and maintain jobs. Better communication among stakeholders is paramount. Management must listen to workers, and develop quality plans and implement them. Unions need to understand how business works. In other words, choose to disagree but focus on principles, not personalities.

Prioritize government services. You might recall the inspiring headlines when Gov. Gary Locke implemented Priorities of Government budgeting. The goals were fiscal responsibility while providing quality services. But when was the last time we enjoyed such headlines? To most businesspeople, government is not concerned with performance, but is seen as focused on imposing financial barriers and justifying costs.

Develop budgets that enable us to live within our means. Admirably, Gov. Chris Gregoire publicly denounced tax increases when the economy soured. It was heartening news.

But public servants have a history of failure to treat budgets as they would their own pocketbooks. You might recall when state spending skyrocketed by an average of more than 17 percent per biennium – so voters passed Initiative 601. They obviously wanted spending limits, but the Legislature amended I-601 seemingly countless times. To make matters worse, a lawsuit was filed when government played what was described as a shell game to artificially manipulate spending limits.

Another challenge: Underfunding of government pensions. In addition, except for many big-business CEOs, public-sector pensions are too laissez-faire compared to the private sector – a time bomb set to go off.

Quality government behavior. Many government workers try to do a good job. But some employees overseeing business, e.g. Department of Revenue employees, do not understand their own regulations.

In a panic to increase revenue, they’ve forced businesses to waste time and resources to justify tax filings because the agency employees were unfamiliar with their own guidelines.

Agency employees could learn another lesson from the private sector. Companies succeed when they correct their mistakes and apologize to customers.

Create a healthy tax system. Start by listening to small business owners – review and correct the state’s business and occupation tax. Washington’s B&O tax is unfair. The tax is based on a business’ gross receipts instead of net profits. It’s a major reason why new companies fail to sustain their workforces and close down.

And why should companies carry the burden for more than 50 percent of state and local taxes? Washington is the second-highest in the nation for unemployment insurance taxes and the third-highest for workers’ compensation benefits.

Government must review its policies, procedures, taxes, fees and charges. At every juncture, governments should ask the question: “Is this productive for economic development?”

Outlaw predatory financial practices. Thousands of state residents have been victimized in financial services – from credit card companies to post-transaction marketing. Work with representatives in Congress to outlaw predatory behavior by credit card companies and debt collectors.

To his credit in 2009, Attorney General Rob McKenna requested lawmakers to pass a law that would stop the deceptive Internet marketing behavior of a Bellevue company, Intellius. But lawmakers failed to act. 

Instill greater public confidence. Today’s public officials can learn lessons from President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his fireside chats on radio to reassure Americans. Businesses will start making investments in their businesses and hiring workers, if they have reasons to be confident.

After developing strategic plans, government leaders at all levels – the state, counties and cities – can be a positive influence. Like any good marketing campaign, they should tell the public what they’re going to do to improve the economic climate. Remind citizens as they enact new policies and procedures. Then, tell businesses about their economic accomplishments.

If governments get this done, Washington will become the leader.

From the Coach’s Corner, it’s helpful to be mindful of I call “The 20 Characteristics of a Healthy Economy.”

Here are my 20 healthy-economy characteristics:

  1. A big-picture consensus and strategic plan for economic development
  2. Action plan resulting in increased entrepreneurship – local businesses that hire more local workers
  3. Diverse industry base of employers
  4. Success at encouraging families and businesses to invest and locate in the community
  5. Family wage jobs
  6. Decreased need for social services
  7. Balance between responsible development and redevelopment without driving out residents or businesses
  8. Infrastructure and solutions, including diversity of land uses that are self-sufficient without relying on outside sources for repeat, large funding
  9. Growth that doesn’t damage the environment or use excessive space
  10. Accessibility and equity for residents in education, employment, housing and transportation
  11. Happy and healthy residents who have a strong pride in the community
  12. Festivals and celebrations
  13. Positive public image
  14. Enhanced shopping opportunities
  15. Anchor projects that encourage commercial, retail and related mixed uses
  16. Optimal tax revenue
  17. Continuous efforts for beautification, for improvement in quality roads and transportation
  18. Widespread charitable contributions for robust nonprofit organizations – vibrant civic and service clubs, churches and their respective organizations, and other groups.
  19. Open and creative community leadership that encourages and nurtures emerging leaders
  20. Ongoing review and fine-tuning of the strategic plan for economic development and creation of jobs

Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.