Boeing: NW’s fickle partner

Last year, Olympia lawmakers went eyeball to eyeball with Boeing, and lawmakers blinked. (OK, Boeing had them at “hello.”)

The $8.7 billion tax package, the largest state tax break in U.S. history, was designed to secure production of the 777X and fabrication of its carbon-fiber wing. It was informed by mistakes made in 2003, when sweeteners to land the 787 Dreamliner avoided any mention of a second, out-of-state assembly line.

Enter Charleston, S.C.

This time, Olympia’s proactive thank-you was minus a no-net-job loss provision.

The zeroing out of 1,000 Puget Sound-area engineering jobs throws that omission into relief.

“We as a state did not agree to $8.7 billion worth of tax breaks for these companies so that they could create minimum-wage manufacturing jobs, and move good-paying engineering jobs out of the state,” IAM District 751 Legislative Director Larry Brown told The Herald.

Northwesterners lampoon South Carolina as a Boeing toady, but lawmakers in Columbia were farsighted enough to incorporate job-specific numbers in exchange for public money. Section 2 (ii) of South Carolina’s 2009 incentive package reads, “the taxpayer creates at least three thousand eight hundred full-time new jobs at the single manufacturing facility during that seven-year period.” There is no comparable job-number provision in Washington 2013 package.

Tax policy is a barometer of political influence. Those with the sharpest elbows and the most loot snare exemptions. If a state budget gives expression to public values — including support for K-12 education and health care — tax policy is the undertow, the force unseen.

As The Herald’s Dan Catchpole and Jerry Cornfield report, the exodus of engineers, along with a sober aha that there may not be a net increase of Boeing jobs in the Pacific Northwest, is compelling a few lawmakers to revisit the package.

It’s a noble, if quixotic mission, with a nanosecond half-life come next session.

Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, a veteran of the labor movement, pushed language to keep engineering and design jobs for the 777X based in Washington. As The Herald reports, Hasegawa was rebuffed. “We’ve got a very clean bill. We are going to keep it this way,” Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, said at the time.

It was clean enough to blow a thousand engineering jobs through. Hasegawa was prescient.

If the bottom line drove decision-making, Washington still would have landed the 777X deal, tax package or no. An educated workforce, a sublime place to live and raise a family, an aerospace culture of integrity and performance.

Bluff calling requires backbone. In matters related to Boeing, political courage falls away.