Lawmakers focus on smaller players in aerospace industry

BELLEVUE — Washington’s efforts to keep the Boeing Co. happy and convince it to build its next generation of jetliner in Everett are well known.

But what are the state’s leaders doing to help the rest of the industry prosper?

“Somebody needs to speak for the aerospace industry and all of the smaller players,” J.C. Hall of Esterline Technologies Corp. of Bellevue told lawmakers at a roundtable Tuesday hosted by the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance. The event was held at the Red Lion in Bellevue.

Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, along with Reps. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, and Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, took part in the discussion centering on what lawmakers accomplished for aerospace firms this year and what they might pursue in 2014.

Each said they understand aerospace in Washington is more than one firm.

“There is an enormous sector beyond Boeing,” Springer said. “Everything we do in the aerospace industry can’t be Boeing-centric.”

Nonetheless, what’s good for the giant is generally good for everyone else it seemed from the conversation.

Increased state funding for higher education and workforce development programs plus funding for a revolving loan program for aerospace training will pay dividends for everyone, they said.

They also cited a tax exemption for refurbishing privately owned planes as an important achievement this year. It will benefit companies specializing in maintenance, repair and overhaul like Everett’s Aviation Technical Services.

One thing lawmakers didn’t do this year was approve a multibillion-dollar transportation package that the PNAA and its members consider vitally important.

Gov. Jay Inslee has said he’d call a special session in November or December if House and Senate leaders had a deal to vote on. When asked Tuesday, all three lawmakers said they don’t expect any agreement before the 2014 session.

“I don’t think there are votes right now to pass a transportation plan with a gas tax increase,” Chandler said. “I’m very skeptical of having a special session.”

Looking ahead, all three said they’d like to make another run in 2014 at reforming the state workers compensation system to allow more injured workers to resolve their claims through a structured settlement.

Under current law, such settlements — often lump sum payouts in lieu of years of benefit checks — are available now for injured workers older than 55 and the age will drop to 50 by 2016. Attempts to push the age down to 40 failed this year.

Scott Hamilton, an analyst for Issaquah-based Leeham Co., struck a nerve when he asked if it was time for Washington to adopt a right-to-work law. He contended it’s helped South Carolina lower its labor costs and gain a competitive edge on Washington in wooing Boeing.

Springer and Shin rejected the idea.

Springer said he believes the cost of labor is only one of the factors Boeing officials consider in deciding where to build plans. Another is the state’s permitting and environmental laws and whether there are enough skilled workers.

Chandler endorsed the idea but said it’s not worth the fight in Washington.

“I think it would be a mistake for my colleagues to try to use a short-term political situation to promote a policy that may not be effective,” he said.

Another point of contention for the industry has been the rate of fish consumption used to set water quality standards. The state Department of Ecology may hike the rate which in turn could lead to tighter restrictions on pollutants discharged in water by industrial facilities like Boeing’s factories in Everett and Renton.

Chandler said he’s concerned technology doesn’t exist yet to clean water well enough to meet the standards the state may set.

Springer suggested lawmakers steer clear and let the department try to work out an agreement amenable to all the interested parties. In the end, any new rules must account for different fish-eating habits in the state, he said.

“One size fits all will not work in Washington,” he said, “and it will never get through the Legislature.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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