Add flip-flop over Boeing tax break to Lovick’s political portfolio

In the political crevice between “Hail Mary” and “hell no” could be found the state House Finance Committee on Friday sitting in judgment of an attempt to rewrite a 25-year agreement between the state and its largest private employer, the Boeing Co.

That deal, chiseled into law in early November 2013, offers the aerospace giant the promise of $8.7 billion in tax savings in exchange for assembling the 777X in Everett.

The committee that day was considering the merits of a bill to modify the deal, tying the number of jobs Boeing provides to the amount of the tax savings it enjoys. Under the bill, if the jobs total dipped below prescribed levels, the size of Boeing’s tax break would shrink.

In a hearing void of much drama, Snohomish County Executive John Lovick provided a puzzling moment when he told lawmakers to pass the bill and hold Boeing accountable.

For Lovick, this was a flip-flop of jumbo proportion, because back in November 2013, it was unlikely you’d find anyone in the county as enthusiastic as Lovick about extending the tax breaks to land the 777X.

Lovick championed the cause of Boeing to House and Senate committees during a special session back then during which state lawmakers acted. He said the law would do great things for the county and state and he cited no concern with it.

Last week, though, Lovick told the House members it’s turned out to be a bad deal. This time he voiced the concern of workers frustrated and angry that Boeing has shipped hundreds of jobs not tied to the 777X out of state since securing the tax-break extension.

“I do not favor providing tax breaks and incentives to create jobs in other states,” he said, adding that the bill to revise the deal “provides the checks and balances we need to make sure our tax dollars and the promised jobs stay in Washington.”

It isn’t clear what changed Lovick’s mind and why he felt moved to testify. He eluded reporters after the hearing and had not returned phone calls as of Wednesday morning.

It’s a testament to his likability that this change of heart hasn’t stirred much reaction from the public. Yet with Lovick gearing up for a re-election campaign, there’s bound to be political fallout.

He might lose the endorsements of some prominent community leaders, including Democrats. Though Lovick has no opponent now, recent events might inspire someone to step forward — a development that Boeing and other aerospace firms operating in the county might be particularly interested to see.

Lovick’s support of the “clawback” bill isn’t the first evidence of his conflicted soul on aerospace matters.

On at least two occasions in late 2013, he publicly urged Machinists to approve a new concession-laden contract which Boeing insisted be ratified to seal the 777X deal. That really angered some leaders and many members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Lovick reportedly apologized to union leaders for what he’d done.

While this latest episode might help heal the rift between him and Machinists, there’s no guarantee he’ll secure the union’s endorsement in the campaign. It might, however, shore up Lovick’s credentials with non-aerospace labor groups put off by his action in 2013.

On balance, Lovick’s actions won’t be the issue on which the race for county executive will be determined. It does, however, offer voters another prism through which to view him this fall when the ballot arrives and they are standing on the edge between re-election and rejection.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter at @dospueblos.

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