Legislature should act swiftly on Boeing incentives

The OlympianNovember 10, 2013 

Boeing Orders

FILE - In this file photo taken Feb. 14, 2011, a Boeing 777 jet stands in a production line at the company's manufacturing plant, in Everett, Wash. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, file)

ELAINE THOMPSON — AP

Listening to Gov. Jay Inslee this week, it seemed as if the stakes riding on the outcome of the seven-day special session couldn’t be higher for passing a package of incentives for Boeing. While other lawmakers are questioning the governor’s sense of urgency, there is no doubt that lawmakers play a critical role in keeping Boeing rooted in Washington.

The choices before the Legislature seem clear. It can agree to extend Boeing’s tax breaks, pass a $10 billion transportation package, invest in aerospace education and set “reasonable” water-quality standards in exchange for immediately locking down production of the 777X airplane and construction of its high-tech wings in the Puget Sound area.

Or, it can waffle and risk losing about 56,000 jobs and an estimated net gain of $17 billion in tax revenue over the next 16 years.

Boeing has deep roots in Washington. For decades, our state’s economy rose and fell with the aerospace giant’s fortunes. We’ve diversified recently with the emergence of strong high-tech and bio-tech industries, but Boeing remains a key driver of the state’s economic engine.

More accurate calculations of the cost and net economic impact of the Boeing deal will emerge by the end of this special session and by what deadline or in what order they must be met.

At first glance, however, it appears Boeing’s demands — save the extension and expansion of the 2003 business-occupation tax breaks — are items already on the Legislature’s agenda and provide benefits to all Washington residents, not just the aerospace company.

Boeing is asking for a $10 billion transportation revenue package, which the Legislature should have passed during its 2013 session. Lawmakers fumbled that ball. If it takes Boeing to force the Legislature into action, so be it.

Years of underfunding the preservation and maintenance of our state’s roadways and bridges have created a rapidly deteriorating transportation system that is fast becoming a liability to public safety and Washington’s economy.

And kudos to Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, for quickly suggesting that a transportation package must include about $800 million for widening Interstate 5 along Joint Base Lewis-McChord and reconstructing interchanges.

Other Boeing demands? Invest in workforce development at technical and community colleges. Check. Streamline permitting for manufacturing development. Check. Setting reasonable fish consumption rates that drive the state’s water quality standards. Check — providing Boeing accepts a level that doesn’t diminish water quality or create human health risks.

The state Department of Ecology has not adjusted its assumption that residents consume 6.5 grams of fish every day since 1980. That number drives the allowable concentration of toxic substances in waterways, because fish such as salmon absorb them.

But the DOE alarmed the business community last year by proposing a quantum leap to a range of 160 grams to 270 grams per day. That would have taken us from the lowest fish-consumption rate in the nation to the highest.

Gov. Jay Inslee promised a compromise rate that would satisfy both business and ecological concerns. If lawmakers can agree on a transportation package, a deal on water quality should be a breeze by comparison.

There was much debate in the 2013 legislative session about closing tax loopholes that no longer made sense or that could not demonstrate measurable benefits to citizens. Both Republicans and Democrats introduced bills to require future tax breaks to prove ongoing benefits.

The Boeing deal appears to meet that test. Lawmakers have a unique opportunity to accomplish necessary goals and maintain the Boeing legacy in one package. They must act now to approve all four components and help save 56,000 jobs.

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