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Boeing and Olympia both to blame for legislative inaction | JERRY CORNFIELD

If you are of a mind to deliver a one-finger salute at mention of lawmakers in a tortuous special session, imagine what those in the hallowed suites of the Boeing Co. are thinking as they keep watch on the endless proceedings.

Its posse of corporate lobbyists arrived in Olympia in January with a short but challenging wish list for legislators to fulfill. They're waiting to see what got done.

The list read something like this:

Invest in training workers and educating greater numbers of engineers; improve the state's transportation network including in and around its Everett factory; continue reforming workers' compensation; and don't change a state standard on fish consumption in a way that forces them to spend major bucks on improvements at its facilities.

As of Wednesday morning, Boeing had lost one for certain and couldn't yet claim successes on any of the others.

Workers' comp won't happen, traded away in the last rounds of state budget negotiations.

A nearly $10 billion transportation package — for which the linchpin is a 10.5-cent gas tax hike — is a definite maybe.

There will likely be money to increase enrollment in college STEM programs including dollars for Washington State University to offer electrical engineering classes at Everett Community College. But enrollment of those WSU students is getting delayed a full year due to the legislative inaction.

As far as the seafood debate, Boeing will end up pretty much where it is today — wondering what the environmentalist Gov. Jay Inslee is going to do and when is he going to do it.

Looking at the scorecard, Boeing's batting average is underwhelming.

As much as lawmakers are the cause by not giving them what they want, Boeing must shoulder some of the blame as well.

Boeing is well known under the Capitol Dome for never saying exactly what it wants and what it doesn't want to legislators. Their lobbyists communicate in a code which relies on nonverbal signs — a nod, a shrug, a head shake — and noncommittal language. And they never leave a paper trail.

They are opaque, which confounds lawmakers. This year is no exception.

House Democrats and Inslee insist they've been told Boeing's chief concerns are higher education and transportation. Members of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus say Boeing told them its priorities are workers' compensation and fish consumption.

There was a time such scorekeeping didn't get done because it didn't matter. Boeing seemed to have eyes for no state but Washington.

Now score is kept for it's no longer a monogamous relationship. Boeing's become a hound dog playing the field from one coast to the other.

In these past six months, while legislators and the governor pushed the state to the brink of an unprecedented shut down, the Boeing Co. continued its slow cruise out of Pugetopolis one transferred engineer and fabricated wing at a time.

If Inslee and legislators honestly want Boeing to build its next generation of passenger jets in this state, they put forth a pretty unconvincing performance this session.

It's been nothing like 2003 when Washington offered up a humongous tax break and huge reforms in workers' compensation to win the Dreamliner.

There's no question Boeing is still reaping rewards from that huge handout. But it was 2003 and, like it or not, Washington will need a splashy move to cement the aerospace behemoth's presence here for another generation of planes let alone another century of operation.

Since lawmakers haven't left Olympia yet, there's time to send a message to those still watching and saluting.

Jerry Cornfield is a political reporter who covers Olympia for The Daily Herald in Everett, which is among the Washington state newspapers in the Sound Publishing group. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

 

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