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Jerry Cornfield |
Published: Wednesday, April 22, 2009, 9:33 a.m.

As aerospace institute takes flight, GOP grounds governor's council

The Washington Institute of Aerospace Technology and Advanced Manufacturing gained speed Tuesday night while the Governor’s Council on Aerospace ran into a political roadblock.

Legislation passed by the House on an 86-9 vote late Tuesday directs Edmonds Community College to oversee design and development of the institute and serve as its initial home.

The institute’s envisioned role is to coordinate existing efforts in the state to educate and train aerospace workers, and research and develop new technologies for the industry.

By Jan. 1, 2010, a report is due to the Legislature with recommendations on how to fund and run the institute. A second report is due in September 2010 with specific recommendations for aerospace-related legislation.

Originally, the bill required college officials write those reports with members of the governor’s council. But House Bill 2308, which forms the panel, is stalled.

Republicans put their foot on it with amendments to reform unemployment insurance and lower workers compensation costs. A recent study cited high costs in these two areas are hurting Washington’s competitive position versus other states in the fight for aerospace business.

Democrats responded by adding language into the institute bill giving the governor power to appoint a panel and put it to work with college officials.

Underlying all of this discussion is the Boeing Co. and whether its future in the state is in doubt if the Legislature fails to act on unemployment insurance and workers comp.

Democrats piloted Tuesday’s floor debate away from Boeing and said it will help match the aggressive efforts of Kansas, the Carolinas and other states with expanding aerospace industries.

“They’re ready. We’re not. We’re behind the eight-ball. We need to get moving,” said Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, author of the institute bill. “This isn’t just about Edmonds Community College and Paine Field.”

Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, whose chaired an ad-hoc aerospace task force of lawmakers, said the bill sends a message the state is “serious” about remaining the nation’s top home for aerospace.

He said Washington set the model with its 2003 agreement – the one with $3.2 billion in tax breaks for Boeing.

“All those states saw what we did and they’re copying us and trying to do a better job,” he said.

Republicans lamented the state’s lack of action since then.

Rep. Skip Priest, R-Federal Way, said six years ago the Legislature moved swiftly and decisively to respond to the industry’s needs but today that’s not happening.

“I don’t have a sense of urgency in the House,” he said.

He said the latest Deloitte Consulting study has the same price and conclusions as the one the firm issued in 2003. He said more studies and more “chatfests” are not going to keep aerospace going in Washington.

“This may be a step but it’s like we’re marching in place,” said Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee. “Let’s stop marching in place. Let’s actually do something to help this industry.”

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