Boeing battle, pot rules top state stories

SEATTLE — The acrimonious battle over Boeing’s new 777X airplane — with state lawmakers approving $9 billion in tax incentives to persuade the company to build the aircraft in Washington and Machinists rejecting a contract offer — was voted the state’s top news story of 2013 by Associated Press member editors.

Other top items of the past 12 months included preparations to sell pot legally in Washington, the collapse of an interstate highway bridge that disrupted traffic for weeks, and a Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier being sentenced to life in prison for killing civilians.

Here are 2013’s Top 10 Washington stories, in order:

1. Legislature approves big Boeing tax break; Machinists reject contract offer: Called back unexpectedly by Gov. Jay Inslee, lawmakers in November OK’d $9 billion in tax benefits through 2040 for the aerospace giant. Inslee said the deal was needed so Boeing would build the 777X in the Puget Sound area, securing thousands of jobs. But shortly after, local machinists rejected a contract offer from Boeing, saying the profitable company was unfairly asking them to give up their pension. Late in the year, the company made another offer that machinists – against the wishes of their local leadership – will vote on in early 2014.

2. State developing rules for legal pot industry: It’s not the usual fare of state bureaucrats, but Washington officials spent 2013 coming up with rules for the legal sale of marijuana. In 2012, state voters approved recreational pot use for adults. By the middle of 2014, people 21 and over should be able to go into state-sanctioned stores and buy the drug. The state will allow 334 pot shops.

3. I-5 bridge collapses near Mount Vernon: In May, an oversized truck struck an I-5 bridge over the Skagit River, causing the span to collapse into the water. Remarkably, nobody was killed or seriously hurt, but the accident caused detours as drivers had to use alternate routes near Mount Vernon in the weeks after the mishap. That section of freeway, connecting Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., normally sees about 70,000 vehicles a day. A temporary span was opened about a month after the accident.

4. SeaTac voters approve $15 minimum wage: People in the airport city of SeaTac narrowly approved a $15 an hour minimum wage for many workers. The result placed Washington state at the forefront of the national debate over wages. Washington already has the nation’s highest state minimum wage at $9.19 an hour. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Efforts to bring the $15 hourly wage requirement to Seattle will likely produce headlines in 2014.

5. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales sentenced to life in prison without parole for Afghanistan massacre: In August, the U.S. soldier who killed 16 Afghan civilians in 2012 — one of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. Robert Bales was sentenced during proceedings at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Bales apologized for his actions, saying “I’m truly, truly sorry to those people whose families got taken away.” Some Afghan villagers who travelled to JBLM for the proceedings weren’t satisfied, saying Bales deserved a death sentence for killing their family members.

6) NBA rejects bid to move Sacramento Kings to Seattle: In early 2013, it seemed like a slam dunk. Hedge fund manager Chris Hansen announced an agreement to buy the Sacramento Kings and move the NBA team to Seattle, replacing the Sonics squad that left for Oklahoma City in 2008. But the league allowed a counter offer in California and ultimately blocked the relocation proposal from Hansen and his partners, who included Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Hansen vowed to continue to secure a hoops team for the Emerald City, but disappointed fans endured another winter without professional basketball.

7. ACLU files lawsuit on behalf of Kennewick gay couple denied service at flower shop: When a gay couple in Kennewick was denied service at a flower shop for their wedding, the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington state sued. Barronelle Stutzman refused to provide flowers for Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed’s wedding. The two men were longtime patrons of her shop, Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson also filed a consumer protection lawsuit.

8. Gov. Inslee announces six underground tanks leaking at Hanford: Gov. Jay Inslee said in February that six underground tanks holding radioactive and toxic waste at the Hanford nuclear site were leaking. Inslee said the leaks at the south-central Washington reservation posed no immediate health threat, but they were yet another example of challenges in the ongoing, multibillion-dollar effort to clean up the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site.

9. Murray defeats McGinn In Seattle mayoral race: Ed Murray, who led the successful effort to legalize gay marriage in Washington state, won a closer-than-expected contest against Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. There was little separating the two liberals politicians in the policy arena, but Murray promised to be more collaborative than the defeated incumbent, whose outspoken criticism of the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel replacement plan and contentious negotiations with the Justice Department over Seattle police reforms rankled some.

10. Ballmer leaving Microsoft: Steve Ballmer announced in August that he would retire from Microsoft, a company he has led since 2000. Known for his bombastic stage presentations at company meetings, Ballmer became a billionaire many times over as he led the Redmond-based tech firm to explosive growth. While criticized for being slow to adapt to changing consumer tastes, there was no immediately obvious successor to the man who, along with co-founder Bill Gates, has been the public face of one of the Northwest’s largest and most successful businesses.

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