A special legislative session just for Boeing

OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers begin a special session Thursday knowing exactly what they need to do and what might happen if they don’t.

Gov. Jay Inslee summoned them on short notice to pass a slew of measures, including a lengthy extension of a multibillion-dollar tax break to help ensure that the Boeing Co. assembles its future 777X jetliner in the state.

To drive home the importance, a top Boeing official on Wednesday took the very rare step of putting it in writing.

In a two-sentence letter, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner told the governor that Boeing “is committed” to placing the new jetliner’s final assembly and wing fabrication in the Puget Sound region as long as “favorable economic incentives” are approved by the Legislature.

He also wrote that the deal is contingent on members of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) District 751 ratifying a proposed eight-year contract extension.

Inslee is pressing lawmakers to wrap up as much as they can before that vote next Wednesday.

“We are hoping to get this package approved prior to the Machinists vote,” said Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for the governor. “We want to demonstrate our commitment to do our part to win these jobs.”

Inslee’s package contains four key elements:

• He wants commercial airplane tax incentives, set to expire in 2024, to be extended until 2040. He also wants to expand a sales-and-use-tax exemption for constructing buildings in which “superefficient airplanes” are manufactured to to include all commercial airplanes and suppliers of wings and fuselages.

• He wants millions of additional dollars spent educating and training future aerospace workers. He is expected to seek at least $8.5 million for 1,000 enrollment slots in community and technical colleges for those majoring in science, technology, engineering, math and other aerospace-related fields.

Inslee also will ask for $5 million to finish a training center in Renton and $3 million to expand the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center at Paine Field in Snohomish County.

• He wants a transportation package approved which would dedicate up to $10 billion to fixing and building highways, bridges and ferries, as well as boosting bus service. An increase in the state’s gas tax would help generate the revenue.

• He is looking for streamlined permitting for large manufacturing sites.

A fifth issue – updating water quality standards based on the amount of fish people consume – is part of the conversation but no legislation is expected. The Department of Ecology is developing rules, and Boeing has signaled a willingness to see how that turns out.

Most of the issues have been debated in the past and could be passed without much trouble in the coming week.

The big exception is transportation. Democrats and Republicans failed to find common ground through a regular session and two extra sessions earlier this year.

Leaders of the House and Senate transportation committees will dive in Thursday to work on a package, although the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus is warning that a roads package might take longer.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, serves on the governor’s bipartisan 777X task force, which vetted many of the subjects in the package. He said panel members generally agreed how to proceed on all the issues except transportation.

“I think most of it can be done” in a week, Hobbs said. “The hard part is the transportation package. It should become apparent very early if we are able to do a transportation package or not.”

Early Wednesday, some lawmakers wondered if the haste is even necessary because a letter of understanding, attached to the proposed contract between Boeing and the Machinists, makes no mention of the Legislature’s role. Conner’s letter likely answered that question.

They also are worried that mistakes might be made during hasty lawmaking.

“When it comes to transportation, I am concerned we are being pushed when we know it’s not ready,” said House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish.

Such concern can be found among Democrats, too.

“The legislative process is a deliberative process,” said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, who is out of the country and won’t be returning until late next week. “Two-day notice of a special session is one of the most extraordinary things I’ve heard of.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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