A consensus is growing that Boeing tax breaks need teeth

By Jerry Cornfield
Herald columnist

The first time area aerospace machinists tried to claw back bits of Washington’s ginormous tax break to the Boeing Co., they found themselves up against national leaders of their union and the governor of the state.

The next time, they won’t.

Bob Martinez, the new international president of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, is publicly backing efforts to redo the deal in order to tie the tax breaks with Boeing employment levels in the state.

And Gov. Jay Inslee told members of IAM District Lodge 751 last week that he will work on the issue with them in 2017 – presuming he’s still governor

It’s quite a climate change since November 2013 when Inslee summoned lawmakers into special session to approve the deal waiving billions of dollars in future tax payments by the company if it built its new 777X jetliner in the state.

Boeing is doing just that in Everett.

But it’s also bleeding jobs, starting literally when the ink dried on that deal; 5,000 trimmed so far with company execs warning another 4,000 could disappear this year.

In early 2015, the tally of lost jobs hadn’t reached the point where Martinez’s predecessors had become acutely concerned.

When local machinists lobbied lawmakers on a bill linking tax breaks with jobs, they heard a contingent including former IAM international vice president Rich Michalski had traveled from Washington, D.C. to Olympia to deliver a completely different message.

“They came out totally against the bill and then they went around the campus and told everybody else in all four corners of the building the same thing,” said House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish.

When Martinez took charge in January, he wrote lawmakers to let them know things had changed and machinists are now united.

“The IAM will speak with one voice in this matter,” he said in an email this week. “Protecting aerospace jobs in Washington state requires more than $8.7 billion in incentives. It requires strong legislation that holds Boeing accountable for preserving jobs.”

In 2015, Inslee didn’t embrace the workers’ legislative effort either. He didn’t publicly oppose it. However, some union members thought the governor worked behind the scenes to keep it bottled up.

Inslee’s tune is different this year.

In early February, in an address to a crowd with Boeing officials and aerospace executives, he cautioned of a future reckoning if the decline in jobs persisted.

“I don’t know that anyone has figured out the perfect answer to this problem,” he said. “But I do believe that some measure of future job accountability is worth considering as maintaining and growing our aerospace industry is a priority that I know we all share.”

Last month he said he would “entertain consideration” of rewriting the 2013 deal to put in job requirements.

Then last week, in his endorsement interview with District Lodge 751 members, Inslee said he would work on this issue with machinists and engineers in 2017.

The union’s political director, Larry Brown, also suggested in a half-serious, half-joking way to the governor that he call a special session to tackle the matter — just as he did to get those tax breaks passed in 2013.

“At what point was my question,” he said. “Do we have time to wait until next year?”

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

Tags: , , , , ,

Related Stories