By Brendan Williams
Once again, it’s time to play, “Who lost Boeing?”
Led by Rodney Tom, Senate Republicans blame Gov. Jay Inslee, and inaction on a labor-opposed workers’ compensation bill, for up to 375 engineering jobs moving to California.
This is the same Jay Inslee who worked hard in Congress to secure an air refueling tanker contract for Boeing worth over $30 billion, and, needing to rally labor for his 2012 gubernatorial campaign, was, in 2011, still one of just 31 U.S. House Democrats to vote for the labor-opposed Colombia Trade Agreement that Boeing supported. Indeed, all of our congressional Democrats have been unfailingly supportive of Boeing. As governor, Inslee has made retaining Boeing jobs a top priority. This is not a partisan issue.
After the California announcement, Sen. Tom warned “we’re chasing Boeing out of town.” But who’s doing the chasing? When Tim Eyman’s transportation-defunding Initiative 695 was before voters in 1999, Boeing’s chief financial officer warned, “Passage of I-695 would be a big blow to every corner of the state. It would hurt all of our businesses.” Maligning Boeing as a “bully,” Eyman and state Republicans pushed I-695 to passage anyway, and Boeing then moved its headquarters to Chicago. Eyman later secured 747 as an initiative number to get back at Boeing. And this session Senate Republicans killed a transportation funding package Boeing supported.
Trying to understand why a multi-national corporation does things is not easy. Washington’s workers’ compensation costs are considerably below California’s, which were the third-highest in the nation in 2012. We ranked 13th, with the employer burden even less given we are the nation’s only state requiring workers themselves to pay a share of premium costs (our employers’ cost is below even South Carolina’s).
Previous concessions to Boeing ensured that all in our state who lost jobs following the 2008 economic meltdown received lower unemployment benefits. Following the 2008 election, legislative Democratic supermajorities, and the then-governor, broke campaign promises to prevent employers from haranguing workers about politics in “captive audience” meetings — because Boeing opposed the bill.
How much further should we have raced to the bottom in the unguaranteed hope of retaining 375 jobs? Many analysts believe that for reasons that have nothing to do with economic rationality — rationality that would have prevented Boeing’s catastrophic outsourcing of 787 Dreamliner production (which Washington taxpayers provided huge incentives towards) among other mistakes — Boeing may be on the move anyway. I dearly hope that’s not true, but should we become even more backwards than South Carolina in the hope it doesn’t happen?
California has been an economic basket case given its debt load and dysfunctional politics that require a legislative supermajority or citizens’ vote to raise taxes. But another critical competitive difference between California and Washington is … drumroll … wait for it … California has both a corporate and personal income tax! Indeed, California’s personal income tax is the nation’s highest. Meanwhile, Washington’s Senate Republicans under Rodney Tom defeated efforts this past session to close even the most egregious tax loopholes — for oil polluters, for example — in a state that the conservative Tax Foundation has ranked in the best-6 for business taxes (California was ranked 48th and South Carolina 36th).
Tom and fellow Republicans need to cool their jets: The solution to keeping Boeing is not demagoguery, and it is certainly not talking down the economic competitiveness of one of the nation’s most objectively competitive states. Let’s not start a self-defeating bidding war against ourselves.
Brendan Williams, a former Washington legislator, is an attorney and disabilities’ advocate.