By Mark Schoesler
I was brought up to believe that a person’s word should be as good as a bond.
State lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee made a major commitment to the state’s aerospace industry in November 2013. The package of legislation we passed was a promise to stabilize aerospace-related tax rates, make educational investments to keep skilled homegrown workers available, and streamline permitting processes to aid development of manufacturing sites large enough to handle aerospace work.
The idea was to make Washington more attractive to aerospace in general — that’s primarily why I voted for it — while specifically giving Boeing reason to assemble its new 777X jetliner here.
At the time Inslee praised legislators for acting quickly, saying they had “stepped up in a big way” that would “secure tens of thousands of jobs and yield huge economic benefits for generations to come.”
Now Inslee is indicating a willingness to go back on his word. Two weeks after the Legislature adjourned this year, the governor told a Seattle public-television audience it is “fitting” to consider adding “some measure of accountability” to the package of aerospace incentives — the same package for which he claimed credit less than three years earlier.
While Boeing is upholding its commitment concerning the 777X, it has downsized other areas of its Washington operations. This is all the excuse some of our liberal friends need to try to force the state to go back on its word. They have never liked the use of tax incentives, because many of them hold the nonsensical view that lowering rates is somehow giving away money that rightfully belongs to government.
Their efforts to effectively renege on the state’s commitment to the aerospace industry failed to move out of the House Finance Committee this year.
It is irresponsible for the governor to send a signal that he would now like a similar bill to be passed in the future; however, this move does not come as a complete surprise. Inslee has done an about-face on a state promise to Washington employers before.
Service providers hit by temporary tax increases of 20 percent while working to survive the Great Recession thought they could trust government to be true to its word, and let the higher rates end on schedule in mid-2013. However, after Inslee took office earlier that year, that promise was poised to evaporate.
Fortunately, the Senate’s new Majority Coalition Caucus was determined to make sure “temporary” meant just that — temporary. Where Inslee failed, we came up with a new budget that let the tax rates revert to their 2010 levels and held the line on other general tax increases, all while beginning an unprecedented streak of new investment in education.
I wish Boeing did not have to shed any jobs in our state, but the aerospace industry faces brutal worldwide competition. Russia just announced a major milestone in rebuilding its commercial aircraft manufacturing center. Brazil, Canada and China are making the same efforts. Airbus is already a robust competitor.
In order to remain competitive, Boeing is sometimes forced to make decisions that we don’t like.
The good news is that Washington had the foresight to land the next generation of jobs with the carbon-fiber focus that comes with the new 777X plant.
In addition, it was just announced that 286 companies from across the state were able to avail themselves of the aerospace tax incentives. These are good family-wage jobs from Kent to Spokane; from Frederickson to Mukilteo.
The 2013 package of incentives did not require Boeing to maintain a certain statewide employment baseline, only to locate its major 777X-related operations here instead of some other state. Inslee understood that when he signed the legislation, and it would be dishonorable to change the terms of the agreement after the fact.
State leaders need to uphold the commitment they made to the aerospace industry. A bond is only as good as the security backing it, and our ability to negotiate agreements in the future will only be possible if employers know that they can trust the state to keep its end of the bargain.
Jobs all across Washington depend on it.
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, is Senate majority leader.