As Gov. Jay Inslee urged tax breaks for Boeing, a Washington legislative task force on winning future Boeing 777X aircraft work for the state began its work Wednesday in secret.
The task force's first meeting was closed of the public. A Crosscut reporter was escorted out of the meeting in Everett's Comcast Arena while being told by an Inslee administration official that it could be kept closed because a majority of the House or Senate was not present. Washington legislative committee and task force meetings have been routinely open to the public. A climate change task force involving legislators and Inslee also has been meeting in public.
Inslee and several legislators were present in the aerospace task force meeting. The task bipartisan force, which Inslee reportedly picked, has six House members and six Senate members.
A lawyer in the Washington Attorney General's office who handles open meetings questions was on a plane Wednesday, and could not be reached for comment on the legality of closing the meeting. Many legislative practices are matters of policy rather than law.
The meeting's agenda included background on the 777X situation plus time to "hear high level recommendations from the Washington Aerospace Partnership’s consultant team who conducted an analysis of Washington’s competitiveness," according to a House Republican Caucus press release that announced the appointments of Reps. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, and Drew MacEwen, R-Union, to the task force.
The Washington Aerospace Partnership is a collaboration of union, Puget Sound cities, economic development organizations and colleges to help develop the state's aerospace industry. Boeing is not listed among the partners on the organization's Web site. A full list of the legislative members was posted late Wednesday by The Herald in Everett, which added that representatives of two unions, the Aerospace Partnership and the Aerospace Futures Alliance of Washington were also invited to take part.
The task force is expected to meet five times before the Dubai Air Show, which is scheduled for Nov. 17 to 20, the Republican press releases said. There is speculation that Boeing might announce whether it will go ahead with its 777X program at the air show. If a green light is announced, observers expect a Boeing decision on Washington's role in the new aircraft production would be announced in the subsequent months.
On Tuesday during the Governor's Aerospace Summit in Everett, Boeing Senior Vice President Pat Shanahan was publicly asked about whether the 777X production would be located in Washington. He stayed silent for a half-minute before giving a noncommittal answer, the Daily Herald of Everett reported.
Inslee spoke to roughly 200 people at the summit Wednesday before going into the closed meeting. Inslee said he would push for extend the same tax breaks that Boeing currently uses for its 787 aircraft manufacturing from the current 2024 expiration date to 2040, which is when 777x production would likely end.
In its last session, the Legislature passed a bill that requires specific job-related goals and expiration dates on new and extended tax exemptions. Companies seeking those tax exemptions must assume their financial information sent to the Washington Department of Revenue will be automatically made public, except when they can convince the department that such disclosure would cause economic harm to a business.
"We understand we're in a competitive environment for this airplane. ... It's tens of thousands of jobs for decades," Inslee said. He said the current 777 programs contribute $20 billion annually to the state economy, out of a yearly $70 billion aerospace contribution to Washington's economy.
Inslee said Boeing has not given his office a list of items that it seeks from the state regarding any new 777X production.
One item is expected to pop up in the legislative session in January. Last session, Boeing sought a study on the numbers and types of fish consumed in Washington, and an accounting of who caught the fish and where. Boeing wanted these studies done prior to the Washington Department of Ecology writing new fish-related industrial discharge regulations for the state's waters. The House Democrats want the Ecology Department to adopt the new regulations because of concerns about Boeing's discharges affecting the health of fish eaten by local tribes, whose diets are heavy with fish. InvestigateWest reported on Boeing's opposition to the new regulations in March; the company says it is worried that the regulations will require costly changes at its facilities in the state.
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