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Originally published Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 4:58 PM

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Guest: Stop doubling down on Boeing with the tax breaks

Boeing has masterfully made this proud state feel insecure, writes guest columnist Brendan Williams.


Special to The Times

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STATE legislators who opposed recent concessions to Boeing were stuck in a futile position swept aside by fear, global currents and inevitability.

This was dispiriting to watch as a former legislator.

A November special session approved an extension of $8 billion in tax breaks, originally approved in 2003, to keep Boeing from eloping with another state. That was followed by an overwhelming Machinists’ vote to reject a labor contract extension. Now Washington is just one state Boeing is evaluating for 777X production.

How much is enough?

The state gave the tax breaks to Boeing in 2003 to secure jobs in Washington state to assemble the 787. Although Washington taxpayers gave hugely toward its production, it was disastrously outsourced. Fast forward to today. Now we just hope to land the 777X, the latest version of a plane in production since 1995.

Are we bidding against ourselves? There is no way of knowing. The 2003 Boeing deal was proposed by a state consultant also working for Boeing.

Boeing has masterfully made this proud state of its origin feel insecure relative to South Carolina. If I were still serving in the Legislature, I may even have voted to extend Boeing’s tax breaks.

Yet it is never enough. Since 2003, the desire to placate Boeing motivated killing a 2009 bill to prevent employers from browbeating workers about their personal politics. The desire to placate Boeing also killed 2009 efforts to restore unemployment insurance benefits to pre-2003 levels. That would have been helpful in a recession lingering into a jobless recovery.

Meanwhile, our members of Congress, including current Gov. Jay Inslee during his term in the U.S. House, fought hard for Boeing to win the Pentagon’s air tanker contract. But nothing engenders loyalty.

It is as if we are obligated to keep doubling down on a losing investment, because the only alternative is to lose everything we invested in the first place.

Contracting is a bilateral process, and freedom to contract is a constitutional right, but The Seattle Times editorial [“Editorial: Vote yes for the 777X,” Opinion, Nov. 11] urged Boeing machinists to accept a unilateral offer from management lest their jobs be shipped off elsewhere. In buying a house, do you accept the seller’s asking price? In what way is this bargaining?

We have become a fearful state where our aspirations are subordinate to our fears. We cannot even ask questions, but must do as we’re told. Corporatism, and its ceaseless rewards for the 1 percent, is a fealty demanded of both parties, even as the 99 percent — working families held hostage — reject their captor’s demands.

Concern for Boeing subsumes all other considerations. No similar state policy accommodation is made elsewhere. Consider seniors and kids.

Since 2003, for example, dozens of long-term care facilities have gone broke. The state Medicaid reimbursement for more than 10,000 nursing-home patients is fixed to 2007 costs through at least July 1, 2015. And yet a state that saved $31 million — losing as much in federal funds — by making this cut can, in a panic, come up with $11 million for new aerospace-oriented training?

The Legislature’s paramount duty is funding K-12 education, not responding to every threat from Boeing’s massively compensated Chicago executives. Yet it took a Washington Supreme Court decision to compel movement toward fulfilling this duty. And we are far short of where we need to be.

I can feel pride in Boeing’s workers and the magnificent machines they manufacture, without feeling pride in Boeing. Loyalty should run both ways.

Olympia attorney Brendan Williams was a 22nd Legislative District state representative from 2005 to 2011.



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