Burbank: What are we getting out of Boeing’s tax breaks?

By John Burbank

As a young girl, my daughter had a fear of flying. She overcame this through a thorough study of airplanes and landed on the 737 as her preferred means of transportation in the air. So naturally, she asked for a Boeing T-shirt for a present. It says, “If it’s not Boeing, I’m not going!”

So let’s talk about Boeing. You might expect that Boeing would treat Everett as the jewel in the crown of its operations. That is certainly what the Boeing management led legislators and the governor to believe when the company demanded first a $3.2 billion tax concession from the state, and then another $8.7 billion.

What did this recent tax giveaway to Boeing get us? A loss of close to 12,000 jobs, 15 percent of the total Boeing workforce in our state. That means that the state gave Boeing about $138,000 for every single job they took away!

Boeing just heralded its new 787-10, built in South Carolina. This was the first Boeing jet to make its first flight outside of Puget Sound. The company is forecasting that production of the earlier 787 models may slow down. Where will the planes not be built? Well, naturally, not in Boeing’s old home of Washington. That tax money we gave them? It just finances outsourcing of jobs and investment to other states and countries.

Boeing is spending billions of dollars in South Carolina and not in our state just to stick it to the unionized workers, the machinists and the engineers, in our state. There is no other reason, financial or otherwise, to forsake decades of investment in plant and workers. Remember how all this got started: Boeing took over McDonnell Douglas in 1997, but actually the McDonnell Douglas management took over Boeing. Right away, they went looking for a new Boeing corporate headquarters, not in Seattle.

The guy who oversaw this flight from and fleecing of our state was Harry Stonecipher. He dreamed up outsourcing the 787 to Japan, Italy, South Carolina and other places, which resulted in billions of dollars of cost overruns when the quality of this outsourcing was not good enough to fly safely in the new airplane.

As Jim Albaugh, chief of Commercial Airplanes at Boeing, explained in January 2011, “We spent a lot more money in trying to recover than we ever would have spent if we’d tried to keep the key technologies closer to home.” But Stonecipher was not fired for his mismanagement of Boeing, he was fired for his mismanagement of his personal life after it came out he was having an affair with another Boeing manager.

Washington has not only given billions to Boeing in tax breaks, it has invested in workers’ education to insure a pipeline of skilled employees for Boeing. At Edmonds Community College, the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center teaches manufacturing assembly, electrical assembly, quality assurance, aerospace tooling and aerospace composites. Everett Community College has both the Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing and an aviation maintenance technology program. In 2012, the Legislature established the Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing Pipeline Advisory Committee.

However, with Boeing’s job drain, we do not need a pipeline. These workers are picked off by companies in other states, with no investment by those states. Recently SPEEA, the Boeing engineers union, sent out a notice to its members about Lockheed Martin holding a Seattle job fair to hire for positions in California and Texas. So now aerospace companies are poaching Boeing workers from our state. These workers have been educated thanks to our public investments in K-12 and higher education to supply Boeing with a skilled workforce. Now Boeing does not need or want these workers.

Boeing is indeed going. There is no reason why the state of Washington must pay them to go. The Legislature should immediately close that $8.7 billion tax loophole, and put that money into education from pre-kindergarten through college. Then we would have workers ready for Washington companies, including aerospace companies, who are committed to our state. Boeing is not one of those.

John Burbank is the executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, www.eoionline.org. Email him at john@eoionline.org.

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