Year ahead: Boeing, county politics the big stories

A major political scandal in Snohomish County and Boeing’s future plans dominated the news this year, and it looks as if these two stories will continue to make headlines well into 2014. But there’s a lot more on deck for the new year, ranging from a new county courthouse to reforming jail operations, major transportation projects, changes to K-12 education and political battles in Olympia. Between these and more local issues dealt with in our cities and towns, there will be plenty of developments in the new year to keep us busy.

Boeing’s decision

Will the Boeing Co. build its new 777X jetliner in Everett or somewhere out of state?

Boeing’s decision — expected in early 2014 — could mean job security for thousands of employees for years to come … or it could mean the exodus of jobs that have become a way of life in Snohomish County.

No other likely development next year is expected to have such a big effect on the area’s aerospace industry and general economy.

Aerospace industry analysts say Everett is the best location for doing the work, but that doesn’t mean its selection is certain.

Far from it, they say. Boeing’s leadership has a deep dislike for the Machinists union and has continued to move work outside Washington.

The two sides have been discussing extending the union’s contract, which currently runs to 2016. But they are still far apart. An agreement could pave the way for the 777X landing in Everett.

“If they don’t reach an agreement, I think there’s a real possibility that Boeing moves the plane out of Washington,” said Scott Hamilton, an aerospace analyst for Issaquah-based Leeham Co.

He said he is hopeful they’ll reach a deal.

Boeing also plans to deliver its first 787-9 next year, and to increase 737 production in Renton from 38 to 42 planes per month.

The company will face increasing competition in the commercial airplane market in future years. While that could affect Boeing employment numbers in the long run, it could also mean more jobs for the dozens of other aerospace companies in Snohomish County.

The year ended with the revelation that Gov. Jay Inslee, while working to help entice Boeing to remain in Washington, was also meeting with representatives of Boeing’s European rival, Airbus Industrie. The results, if any, of those meetings might make for some surprising headlines in 2014.

Reardon fallout

In the annals of political bigwigs brought low by hubris, Aaron Reardon is Snohomish County’s most prominent representative.

The former county executive left town after resigning at the end of May, but he hasn’t escaped scrutiny for his behavior while in office.

Expect to see developments next year from an ongoing criminal investigation into Reardon’s administration.

The King County Sheriff’s Office released initial findings this month centering on the activities of former Reardon aide Kevin Hulten. Evidence suggests that the junior Reardon staffer tried to scrub data from a laptop used in a scheme to harass his former boss’ political enemies.

Skagit County prosecutors have yet to say whether they’ll seek charges against Hulten.

Two ongoing civil investigations by the state elections watchdog also focus on Reardon and Hulten. It’s unclear when the Public Disclosure Commission will complete those inquiries.

Meanwhile, county government continues under the leadership of John Lovick, who was appointed executive in June. The former sheriff will have to run in the 2014 general election to retain the final year of what would have been Reardon’s term.

“I’m looking forward to the new year,” Lovick said. “I expect 2014 to be as busy, if not busier, than the last part of 2013. My areas of focus remain the same: safe schools, safe roads and jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Sheriff Ty Trenary, a sheriff’s captain who was named to Lovick’s former post, also must run in November 2014 for a one-year term.

No opponents to date have announced plans to run against Lovick. Trenary faces a likely challenge from sheriff’s Sgt. James Upton, his rival for the job when the County Council made the sheriff appointment.

In addition to the ongoing investigation into Reardon, the county expects to acquire property and flesh out the design next year for a new $162 million courthouse on Wall Street, across the street from the county administration buildings. Under the current timeline, most of the construction would take place in 2015 and 2016.

At the same time, work will continue at the Snohomish County Jail, which drew criticism in recent years after a series of high-profile inmate deaths. Trenary said next year’s goals include additional training for medical staff, adding mental-health screenings to bookings and using an electronic medical-records system.

The sheriff said he wants to find ways to reduce bookings for non-violent misdemeanors, which means finding other ways to deal with problems related to people who are mentally ill, homeless or struggling with addiction after they come into contact with police.

The National Institute of Corrections likely will be asked to revisit the jail and report on any changes made since the institute’s 2013 visits.

Road construction ahead

Repaving part of the Bothell-Everett Highway, the start of work on a new bridge over Davis Slough to Camano Island, and completion of several ongoing road projects highlight Snohomish County roadwork planned for 2014.

The $3.1 million repaving project, from I-405 to Highway 524, is expected to begin in the summer and be finished in the fall. Some lane closures will be needed.

The $29.3 million bridge replacement over Davis Slough is scheduled to begin in the spring and conclude in 2015. Lane closures will be needed but access to the island will be maintained.

The $146 million Highway 522 widening project south of Monroe is expected to wrap up in the fall. Also scheduled to conclude in 2014 are the $59 million widening of Highway 9 through Maltby and Clearview and the $18 million replacement of the Highway 9 bridge over Pilchuck Creek north of Arlington.

Preliminary work on the state’s planned $141 million ferry terminal in Mukilteo is scheduled to begin next fall.

The work involves removing a long-unused pier that was part of the former Air Force fuel tank farm on the city’s northern waterfront. The job is expected to continue into 2015. Work on the terminal itself is targeted for 2016 and 2017.

Education reforms

Expect higher education programs to grow in and around Everett next year, with a special eye toward supporting the aerospace industry.

Design should be underway on a freestanding building for a Washington State University branch campus on the north end of Broadway, across from Tower Street. WSU also announced plans to open a Washington State Connections retail store in town this spring.

Meanwhile, WSU, Everett Community College and Edmonds Community College all are developing new degree programs in Everett to bolster training in aerospace and advanced manufacturing.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed supplemental budget includes money for WSU to develop a new School of Advanced Manufacturing and Aerospace at Everett Community College.

In K-12 education, school districts across Washington are facing several very big changes in the new year. The start of the 2014-2015 school year marks the culmination of a multiyear transition of all public schools in the state to the Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced assessment system.

Also coming is the second half of the reform equation, the Teacher/Principal Evaluation Program, which all districts are required to have started in the coming school year. By the end of the 2015-2016 school year, all school districts will have implemented the TPEP program for all certificated classroom teachers and principals.

School districts also will be keeping an eye on the state legislature to see what (if anything) it will do to address the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which found that the state was violating the constitutional rights of children by not adequately funding education of all K-12 students.

And while waiting on the state legislature to come up with long-promised-but-always-overdue money, many districts will be going to the polls in the Feb. 11 special election for a variety of levies and bonds.

These include maintenance and operations levies (in Darrington, Edmonds, Everett, Granite Falls, Lake Stevens, Monroe, Mukilteo, Northshore, Snohomish and Sultan) technology levies (Granite Falls, Lake Stevens, Marysville, Monroe, Northshore and Snohomish) and general obligation bonds (Edmonds, Everett, Lakewood and Mukilteo).

Drama under the dome

State lawmakers arrive Jan. 13 for the 2014 session. It is scheduled to last 60 days but don’t be shocked if it runs into special session, since the Legislature held three extra sessions in 2013.

Lawmakers will be tweaking the budget they approved last June. Without extra money, there’s not much to fight over on spending.

They will be dueling on a multibillion-dollar package of improvements for the state’s transportation system. House Democrats, Senate Republicans and Gov. Jay Inslee couldn’t strike a deal this year and if they do in 2014, it may end up before the voters.

Another hot topic will be adopting rules to bring the largely unchecked medical use of marijuana in line with the heavily regulated legal pot industry which launches this year.

Battles at the ballot box

Competing ballot measures on guns will put Washington in the national spotlight in the fall.

One measure would expand background checks on handgun sales to include private sales. The other would ensure state gun laws do not exceed federal gun laws. Both will attract plenty of financial support.

All 98 state House seats and half of the Senate seats are on the ballot, which gives voters their biennial opportunity to remake the Legislature.

Herald Writers Dan Catchpole, Jerry Cornfield, Noah Haglund, Rikki King, Amy Nile and Bill Sheets contributed to this report.

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