Only a little time left for legislators to vote on Boeing tax breaks bill

OLYMPIA — Time is running out for backers of a bill tying Boeing Co. tax breaks to the number of people the company employs in Washington.

Sponsored by an Everett lawmaker, the bill has been in the House Finance Committee for nearly a month with no sign that the chairman is going to bring it up for a vote.

But Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, brushed aside insinuations that it is dead, saying Friday that it is still in play as the Legislature enters the last three weeks of a 105-day session.

“We’re still working on getting to a ‘yes,’ ” Robinson said. “There’s interest in moving it. I’m definitely not done working it.”

House Bill 2147 would amend a law passed in a November 2013 special session to help land Boeing’s 777X program in Everett.

That law extended a suite of tax incentives to 2040 in exchange for the aerospace giant agreeing to assemble its newest jetliner in the state. The extension will save Boeing an estimated $8.7 billion in tax payments to the state through 2040.

Robinson’s bill would alter the 2013 law by linking those incentives with the size of Boeing’s workforce. Should the workforce shrink — and it has since the extension was enacted — the tax break would shrink, too.

“If the jobs stay, the tax breaks stay, and if the jobs leave, the tax break incrementally goes away. I think that is fair,” Robinson said at a March 13 public hearing in the Finance Committee.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, the committee chairman, said in a recent interview that he won’t bring the bill up for a vote without Republican support.

“The only chance it has is if there is a bipartisan consensus,” Carlyle said. “There are some Republicans interested in this, and we are trying to figure out what it would take for them to shift” to full support.

Carlyle declined to name the Republicans, only saying, “I think there’s a potential for a path forward, but it depends on the broader agreement.”

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 751 and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace crafted the bill in response to layoffs and transfers of work since the 2013 special session.

As written, Boeing must employ at least 83,295 workers in Washington to receive the full tax break. It is reduced incrementally based on the number of workers, and it disappears if the total company employment reaches 5,000 or more below the baseline. At the end of 2014, the company had 81,497 employees, according to figures provided by committee staff.

Boeing argues that the bill’s supporters focus only on what’s occurred in the past 12 months. The company has added 30,000 jobs in Washington since 2003, half of which are held by Machinists or engineers, the company says. Today, more than half of Boeing’s workforce worldwide is in Washington.

On Friday, the legislative and political director for the Machinists sounded upbeat about the chances of getting the bill to the floor for a full vote in the House.

“While the budget has been taking up most of the oxygen,” this week “is our opportunity to make a final push get it out of the Finance Committee,” said Larry Brown, the union’s point man in Olympia. “We think there’s interest in the bill.”

Even if the House passes it, leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate strongly oppose it.

Gov. Jay Inslee has steered clear of the Boeing debate but has said he doesn’t want to do anything that might “jeopardize the growth that we’re experiencing with the 777X program.”

Opponents want the legislation to go away but know it hasn’t yet.

“I’m hoping it’s dead,” said Linda Lanham, president of the Aerospace Futures Alliance, the voice of aerospace supply firms. “It’s unclear because they’re still talking about it.”

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

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