After Boeing gave us the news that it was jilting us, leaving us yet again for someone else, Gov. Jay Inslee sounded like everybody who has ever gotten dumped.
“This is a two-way street,” he pleaded, wounded, during a news conference. “It is not a one-way street. We have to have The Boeing Co. realize this.”
You can’t walk out on me! We’ve got so much history together!
This is the trouble we’ve been having with Boeing for two decades now. In our hearts we still pine that they’re a local company, the old Lazy B, and that we’re still the scrappy Jet City. But the harsh truth is they broke up with us years ago.
As is always the case in these matters, we seem to be the last to know.
Boeing’s decision Thursday to take the 787 Dreamliner to South Carolina, leaving Everett, was met with aggrieved hurt by local leaders. But it was a completely predictable event, ever since the company gallivanted off to Charleston to open a second Dreamliner plant there in 2009.
The coronavirus pandemic maybe accelerated this Splitsville, but it was always going to happen.
Still, Inslee called it “an insult,” again showing that he feels Boeing should be more loyal to us or something. But there’s another word for it that state and local leaders might consider going ahead: It’s business.
We need to get it through our cracked hearts: Boeing is just not our company anymore. It hasn’t been one of us since it moved its HQ to Chicago back in 2001. The rift really predates that, back to when Boeing had its engineering culture taken over by McDonnell Douglas’ corporate finance culture in a merger in 1997. Ever since, Boeing was a Seattleite no more.
So for two decades we’ve trying to buy their affection. We showered them with a $3.2 billion tax break package in 2003. When that wasn’t sweet enough, we got really desperate and in a three-day special session in Olympia in 2013 gifted them an $8.7 billion extension, still the fattest state tax subsidy package granted to a company in U.S. history.
State politicians also cornered Boeing’s machinists into freezing their retirement pensions.
And this — inevitably another jilting — was the thanks we got.
Seriously, the problem here isn’t that Boeing is a disloyal cad. It’s all just business — to them anyway. The problem is that a generation of local and state politicians, blinded by nostalgia, have been too easily manipulated.
When state leaders gave Boeing huge tax breaks in 2003, they didn’t get any job guarantees in the bill, or anything that committed the company to keeping the 787 aircraft production here. So that was a mistake, obviously, because now it’s gone.
Then in 2013, state leaders repeated this exact error. Again they boosted Boeing with a massive subsidy, this time for the 777x, but included no net job targets, as is common in these sorts of deals in other states. Boeing built the 777x plant as required, but within months had started shifting thousands of jobs to other states — sometimes, infuriatingly, to fulfill jobs-for-tax-cuts requirements that had been smartly imposed on them by those other states.
“It all has that sense of ‘fool me twice,’ ” a local fiscal analyst and critic of the deals told me back then. “We’re getting up to ‘fool me three times,’ or more.”
Even after all that, when the state Legislature revisited Boeing’s tax breaks this past March, they incredibly again whiffed on adding strong accountability or jobs language to the deal.
Boeing had asked the state to restructure the subsidies, due to the World Trade Organization finding that one of the tax breaks is illegal. The resulting bill, which passed, temporarily ends the company’s business-and-occupation tax cut but would restore a tax break if the WTO case gets settled.
State Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, offered an amendment saying that in order for Boeing to get its tax break back, the company should commit to having at least half its workforce based in our state. You want the tax cut, you keep the lion’s share of the jobs here.
The Legislature rejected this. I re-listened to the debate this past week, and it was remarkable how gauzy and sentimental it was. Senator after senator rose to fondly recall how their dads and granddads riveted planes, mooning over how you can still tell a legacy Northwesterner by whether they say “Boeings,” with an “s” on the end.
Oh my god, they’re still hooked, I thought while watching the senators talk.
“What should we maybe have done, back in 2003 and 2013, so that we don’t look back and feel like we got rolled,” Hasegawa challenged the Senate. “Maybe some accountability measures? People were just angry when we passed these tax incentives and then all the jobs were shipped out anyway. I think we should have learned something from that.”
Definitely, and it’s not too late to learn it now. It’s over: Boeing is not our soul mate anymore, OK? There’s no loyalty. In fact we’re not in a relationship at all, we’re in a business transaction.
I bring all this up because Boeing is in a world of hurt right now, and probably more than ever is going to need some help from the good ol’ state of Washington. It will be a big debate next year, and with all the great jobs the company can provide, maybe we should give it to them.
Only this time, can we please cut the codependency and finally get it in writing?