Legislators have done their part and the governor has provided his stamp of approval, leaving the next step up to Boeing machinists. But while lawmakers have taken important steps over the past couple days toward bolstering Washington’s economic future, one aspect of Gov. Jay Inslee’s legislative blitzkrieg seems open to criticism.
On Monday, Inslee signed into law two bills designed to keep construction of Boeing’s 777X jetliner in the state. The first bill extended tax breaks that originally were passed in 2003 and had been scheduled to expire in 2024. The extension to 2040 is expected to save the aerospace giant $8.7 billion over those 16 years. For those who would criticize tax breaks for multibillion-dollar companies, consider this: If Boeing were to move its 777X operations out of state, then Washington wouldn’t see any of that tax revenue — or the jobs that come with the project. Because Boeing in recent years has moved its headquarters to Chicago and some of its 787 assembly to South Carolina, the company has demonstrated a willingness to leave the state in search of more favorable business opportunities.
The second bill signed by the governor pumps $17 million into education and training for future aerospace workers. For example, it includes $8 million for 1,000 new enrollment slots in community colleges and technical colleges.
Perhaps most important, the legislation includes language stressing that the tax breaks are contingent upon final assembly, wing assembly and wing fabrication for the 777X and any future versions of the plane remaining in the state.
All of this was the result of a special session of the Legislature called last week by the governor. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a new contract with Boeing, and Inslee used that deadline to pressure lawmakers into quick action. Yet at the same time, Inslee attempted a painfully transparent backdoor move to get a transportation bill passed.
In calling the Legislature into session, Inslee insisted that Boeing officials were demanding a $10 billion transportation package in addition to the tax incentives. That would involve phasing in a 10-cent increase to the state gas tax — a plan similar to the one the governor pushed earlier this year while being ignored by the state Senate. This time around, the Senate passed the tax incentives and then adjourned, reinforcing the notion that Inslee should try another tack when it comes to a transportation bill.
To those of us in Southwest Washington, Inslee’s attempt to lump a transportation bill with the Boeing incentives was absurd. As we have written editorially in the past, Clark County has been a donor county for much too long when it comes to transportation projects in this state, paying gas taxes that go toward megaprojects in Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane. If Inslee thinks the lack of a transportation bill is a dealbreaker for Boeing, well, we’ll take our chances. We’re guessing that it isn’t.
Meanwhile, the efforts to land Boeing’s 777X in Washington now rest with the machinists union. The deal struck between the company and union negotiators includes concessions on pensions and health care benefits, and Wednesday’s vote is expected to be close. We urge union members to support the plan that could keep thousands of good-paying manufacturing jobs in the state for years to come. As state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said: “Whatever happens with that contract discussion, this aerospace-preservation legislation is essential for our whole state.”