Cantwell: Extend tax credits that aid veterans

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Many of the 160,000 active-duty military members who return home each year have trouble finding employment, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said Monday on the grounds of Nutter Corporation in Vancouver.

The Democrat from Edmonds was in town to promote tax credits for businesses that hire veterans. Those tax credits are expected to expire at the end of the year.

Nutter, a business specializing in heavy construction, employs 22 veterans. Those employees bring unique skills to the workplace, the company's chief financial officer, Jeff Woodside, said during Cantwell's visit.

Veterans "have great leadership ability, initiative, motivation, work ethic and self-discipline," Woodside said. "They have received an excellent education and have been well-trained. They are prime candidates for positions requiring security clearances and are highly diverse with regard to gender and ethnicity."

The veterans tax credit program gives businesses a maximum of $5,600 for each veteran hired and a maximum of $9,600 for each veteran hired who has disabilities related to his or her military service.

The tax credit "will continue to be an important incentive for the Nutter Corporation in adding additional veterans to its current workforce," Woodside said.

A proposal to renew those credits are part of a larger Senate bill called the Family and Business Tax Cut Certainty Act. In early August, the bill was approved by the Senate Committee on Finance by a vote of 19-5. Cantwell serves on the finance committee.

The bill would extend the veterans tax credits through 2013, and it includes extensions for a number of other tax credits, including those for low-income housing and clean energy projects. It also includes a two-year extension of the law that allows Washingtonians to deduct sales taxes on their federal income tax returns.

Last year, 3,000 veterans were hired by businesses that took advantage of the veterans tax credits, Robert Brown of the state's Employment Security Department said.

During her visit, Cantwell met with six of Nutter's veteran employees, including project manager Ed Hagedorn, who joined the U.S. Navy in 1994 right after high school. He trained as a Tomahawk missile launch technician and served until 1997. He decided to go back to college after his stint in the Navy to improve his chances of getting a job.

"As you can probably guess, there's not a large demand for Tomahawk missile launch technicians in the regular workforce," Hagedorn said. Nutter Corp. does excavation, grading and underground utilities work.

Cantwell said the tax credit helps businesses make up for the costs of training and educating new employees.

"Over the next decade, we're going to have thousands and thousands of returning military from Iraq and Afghanistan, and these veterans have served our country with honor," Cantwell said. "This bill is about helping them land on their feet once they get home, and to find a job."

In all, the event on Monday afternoon lasted less than an hour, and it was closed to the public. Her visit included a tour of the Nutter facilities.

Following the event, Cantwell couldn't say exactly what the chances were for getting the bill passed before the end of the year. There is no companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"We're not going to stop until we get this reauthorized," Cantwell said. "Hopefully we'll get done in the next couple of weeks, and hopefully we'll put more veterans back to work. … I'm pretty adamant that I think Congress should stay there and just get this job done."