OLYMPIA — Aerospace workers attempting to claw back some of a multibillion-dollar tax break to the Boeing Co. because of its shrinking workforce in Washington are not getting much traction with lawmakers this year.
Wednesday marks the halfway point of the 2017 session and no legislation has been introduced to tie the company’s continued enjoyment of tax savings to the number of people Boeing employs in the state.
Representatives of unions representing Machinists and engineers said a bill they’re drafting targets the 2013 law extending a suite of incentives to the aerospace industry that could save Boeing up to $8.7 billion in tax payments through 2040. Since lawmakers passed the extension in a special session, Boeing has shed nearly 12,000 jobs while establishing its 777X program in Everett.
“I’m optimistic we’ll get a bill introduced,” said Larry Brown, political director for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 751.
They need a lawmaker to sponsor the bill and it’s not been an easy search as most are focused on figuring out how to fully fund public schools.
“I think the situation with McCleary is sucking up the oxygen,” Brown said. “That doesn’t mean that (lawmakers) are not concerned.”
Chelsea Orvella, legislative director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), said she fully expects there will be a tax incentives accountability bill for them to consider this session.
“I don’t think there is any less interest,” she said. “I still think there’s an appetite and energy to do this.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis wants to go further than the unions.
On Tuesday he said his bill would repeal provisions that extended the expiration date from 2024 to 2040 for the Boeing Co. This would increase Boeing’s tax payments and those dollars would be redirected into a fund to assist laid-off aerospace workers and to provide a tax cut to businesses with fewer than 100 employees.
The bill also would contain a reverse trigger. If the company’s employment in Washington, reported to be 71,323 as of Jan. 26, reaches at least 83,295 — the number it had in November 2013 —the entire tax break would be restored.
DeBolt said he voted for giving tax breaks to the aerospace industry in 2003 to help land the 787 Dreamliner, and then again in 2013. He said he’s become disappointed not only with Boeing’s declining workforce but also with what seems to be less direct investment in communities.
“I have not found them to be the same company that I worked hard to give the tax breaks,” he said.
No Democratic lawmakers or the two largest unions of aerospace workers have decided to join DeBolt.
“We are not working with him on his bill but we appreciate his interest in the subject,” Brown said.
This situation this year is much different than 2015 and 2016 when Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, sponsored legislation crafted by the two unions that tied the tax breaks to the number of jobs Boeing maintained in the state.
Both bills received hearings in the House Finance Committee. But the panel didn’t approve either one.
Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, chairwoman of that committee, said Tuesday if similar bills surface this year they are certain to suffer the same fate because the dynamics haven’t changed.
“We don’t have support to get it out of the committee,” she said. “Until folks show me a pathway to get it out of committee, I have higher priorities to focus on.”
The Boeing Co. declined to comment for this story.
But the leader of Aerospace Works for Washington, a new industry advocacy group that includes Boeing, said they’ve been working hard to fend off any efforts to weaken the incentives.
“There is broad recognition in our state that our aerospace jobs are the envy of the nation and increasingly, the globe,” said Maud Daudon, president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, which houses the coalition.