Legislature, industry, labor seek homestyle recipe for 777X

Twelve Democratic and Republican state lawmakers will gather Friday morning in Seattle to continue formulating a strategy for convincing the Boeing Co. to assemble the 777X in Washington.

This will be their second sit down in two weeks and will take place behind closed doors in an unannounced location. (I hear if you hang out near the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce building around 9:30 a.m. you might catch sight of them.)

And if it’s like the inaugural meeting in Everett last week, materials handed out will be collected before anyone leaves the room. This dozen, along with representatives of the Machinists union, aerospace engineers, Washington State Labor Council and Aerospace Futures Alliance, are trying to craft a secret sauce to sway company executives and don’t want its ingredients known prematurely.

They are under some pressure. Gov. Jay Inslee, who cooked up the idea of the task force, wants something tangible before the international air show in Dubai opens Nov. 17. That’s when Boeing is expected to formally launch the 777X program and maybe hint where it will build the next generation of its popular jetliner.

There’s good precedent for such an exercise.

A decade ago, a select group of lawmakers drew up significant changes in Washington laws covering taxes, workers’ compensation and unemployment then got them approved by their colleagues. The result: Boeing chose Everett for its 7E7 — now 787 — program.

This time around is different in two major respects.

Then, Boeing laid out pretty clearly what it wanted and conducted a formal process to solicit proposals from communities and states. This time around, the company isn’t saying anything about its desires for the 777X.

“The whole genesis is different,” said Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, who chaired the 2003 task force and is on this new panel. “We really don’t know what we’re responding to.”

The political climate is different, too.

Then, the governor was Gary Locke, a moderate Democrat. Faced with a Republican-run Senate, he found common ground with moderates in the GOP and his own party in order to push through sweeping policy reforms which helped land the groundbreaking Boeing program.

Now, the governor is Inslee, a progressive Democrat. He, too, faces a Senate controlled by Republicans. And, like in 2003, there are divisive issues such as transportation funding, workers’ compensation and fish consumption which may need tending to in a bipartisan fashion to sway Boeing.

Unlike Locke, Inslee’s shown a mostly take-no-Republican-prisoners attitude in his dealings with the Legislature in his first year. For some task force members, it’s tempered their optimism over what will be accomplished in the next few weeks.

For example, Inslee likely will need to press Republicans into endorsing a multi-billion transportation dollar package that Senate GOP leaders have rejected for months. And on workers’ compensation, he will likely need to soften his stance and push House Democrats who blocked reforms of the program earlier this year.

Morris, reciting the achievements of 2003, said it’s too soon to pillory the latest effort.

They’re just starting out and on Friday, members will get a chance to put ideas from their caucuses on the table.

“This is not a place to come and play politics,” he said of the group. “It is a place to come and find solutions.”

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

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