Lawmakers moved swiftly to extend Boeing tax breaks

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Washington lawmakers moved swiftly Saturday to extend aerospace tax breaks in a bid to satisfy Boeing Co. and win the manufacturing work that will come with the company's new 777X production.

The Legislature gave final approval to extend the tax incentives - worth a total projected value of $9 billion - all the way to 2040. Lawmakers then adjourned their three-day session without taking up a transportation package that Gov. Jay Inslee had sought.

Legislators from both parties touted the importance of the Boeing jobs, especially for the long-term. Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, a Democrat who leads a largely Republican caucus, said the company has had an enormous impact on the state over the years and said the bill was a way to make sure it continues.

"It's an incredible opportunity that we can keep this going for the next generation," Tom said.

Even though the tax breaks weren't set to expire for several more years, Inslee called the Legislature back to Olympia this week for a special session dedicated to the Boeing bills. Along with the tax package, lawmakers voted to spend millions of dollars on worker-training programs and an effort to aid permitting for large aerospace manufacturing sites.

Inslee said the bills were necessary in order to win the manufacturing work that will come with Boeing's new 777X production. He praised the bipartisan work that went into the package and said the deal will reverse the outflow of aerospace jobs from the state.

"This is an unprecedented guarantee that multiple generations of aircraft will be built here right here in the state of Washington," Inslee said.

Democratic Sen. Bob Hasegawa was one of the two senators to oppose the bill, expressing a variety of concerns. He was concerned that the bill didn't provide enough protections and that Boeing could use the 777X work to supplant work being done on the 787.

Hasegawa also expressed concern that the Legislature was essentially pressing union workers to accept a contract that may not be beneficial to them. He was also concerned that lawmakers would approve such a large tax break after considering the issue for just a couple days.

"We haven't, I don't think, fully thought out the uses of that $9 billion," Hasegawa said.

Boeing has proposed a lengthy contract with the Machinists union and says the deal is necessary to secure the company's 777X commitment to the region. In neighboring Oregon, some 1,200 machinists who work at Boeing's Gresham facility and the network of Boeing suppliers across the Portland area could have been impacted, The Oregonian reported.

Several Republicans expressed concern during debate Saturday that lawmakers would rush to aid Boeing but wouldn't provide tax or permitting benefits to other industries or businesses. Republican Rep. Joel Kretz said his district has very little aerospace business, and he said some businesses in his area spend years trying to get permits for work.

"We've got to fix it all over the state," Kretz said.

Separately, Inslee had sought a $10 billion transportation package as part of the Boeing bills, although some lawmakers say that measure can be passed at a later date. Democratic Sen. Tracey Eide, a leader on transportation matters, said she hoped lawmakers could have an agreement on the package soon and be able to approve it at some point this month.

"We're very close," Eide said.