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Monday, March 20, 2006 - Page updated at 01:04 AM

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Hurt lawmakers moved to change business climate

Politicians' hard feelings about Boeing's Chicago shuffle lasted about a day in the state Capitol.

The immediate reaction from lawmakers and the governor was shock — and not just about the move itself. After years of unwavering support for the company, none of the political insiders had any advance knowledge of the move.

"There were a lot of people who really, really felt betrayed, and I think what we did about that was do our best to listen and acknowledge the feelings," said Bob Watt, Boeing's vice president of community and government affairs.

But instead of griping about the company, Democratic and Republican lawmakers argued about who was to blame.

The fight centered on whether Boeing left because of a poor business climate in Washington. Boeing parsed the answer by saying that's not why it left, but that the climate could certainly be better.

Lawmakers responded with business-backed changes to the state's unemployment-insurance system, some regulatory changes and tax breaks to help aerospace suppliers.

The real test of the new Chicago-based Boeing came in 2003, when the company said Washington had to compete against other states to have the company's new jetliner assembled here.

Washington won the bid, with the promise of tax breaks that could be worth more than $3 billion over 20 years.

Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Seattle, said lawmakers learned quickly to get over their anger at Boeing's departure.

"It was a blow to our pride, no two ways about it," she said. "And now it's just a big yawn. Who really cares where their headquarters is? They're still building planes here."

David Postman, Seattle Times chief political reporter

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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