Lawmakers scramble to sway Boeing - Company has made it clear state will have to compete for 7E7 assembly work


OLYMPIA, WA - 4/16/03-- Lawmakers remain at odds over some of The Boeing Co.'s top legislative priorities -- even as fears grow that the company may take its next big project elsewhere.

With less than two weeks left in the regular session, lawmakers continue debating substantial measures the aerospace company wants, including traffic-congestion relief, reforms to unemployment insurance and higher-education funding.

Boeing has made it clear that Washington will have to compete with cities around the world for the work to assemble its upcoming 7E7 line of commercial jets. The company is developing a list of site-selection criteria for Washington officials.

Even without that list, politicians and lobbyists are scrambling to push through last-minute deals they say will help sway Boeing's decision.

Olympia players are still trying to write new legislation to change unemployment insurance and worker-compensation rules that Boeing and other businesses consider unfair.

And House Democrats yesterday held a hastily organized news conference, aiming to quell criticism that they have failed to adequately court the 7E7 project. That brief conference immediately led to some of the most heated partisan discord of this relatively subdued legislative session.

Flanked by a dozen fellow House Democrats and several Boeing representatives, Speaker Frank Chopp yesterday highlighted several measures in the works that he says address some of Boeing's top concerns. "We've been working on it for months," said Chopp, of Seattle.

Chopp listed seven legislative requests from Boeing. The House has reached deals on three relatively simple measures to change shoreline regulations, business codes and tax laws, he said. And transportation negotiations continue.

But Chopp acknowledged he's not sure whether lawmakers can make the April 27 legislative adjournment deadline to reach deals for higher-education funding and the employee-benefit reform. However, most legislative observers expect that lawmakers will fail to agree to a two-year budget and will need at least one extra session for that.

Also, Chopp said that lawmakers could call a one-day special session just for Boeing-friendly measures.

Chopp said he planned to create a legislative task force to address the 7E7 and that Republicans would be welcome to join.

But attempts to promote bipartisanship suffered yesterday when Chopp's staff asked several leading House Republicans to sit in the news conference audience, rather than in view of the cameras at the table. Feeling slighted, they left the conference.

The Legislature can do nothing to guarantee that Boeing will choose Washington over another location for the 7E7, acknowledged Steve Leahy, president of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.

But, he said, failure to act on the most significant issues amounts to forfeiture. "If we don't do some of those huge things, we're absolutely, completely opting out of the competition," Leahy said. For example, "there's an incredible urgency to reconciling the House transportation proposal with the Senate's, and they've got to figure that out and get it done."

Boeing moved its headquarters from Seattle to Chicago two years ago, a blow that has had legislators scrambling ever since to improve the state's business climate. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Boeing has laid off about 30,000 workers. The company has said it expects to lay off another 5,000 in its commercial airplane operations this year.

Boeing has not yet issued a 7E7-specific wish list. "What may or may not influence site selection of 7E7 is going to depend on a broad spectrum of criteria that we have not fully developed yet," said Chuck Cadena, a Boeing spokesman.

Still, he added: "Progress on those issues is important to the operations we have here today, as well as any future operations we may have here.

"Making progress on those issues would be a positive sign."

Boeing plans to review its 7E7 criteria first with Locke and other Washington state officials, before moving on to talk with officials in other states and possibly even foreign governments. Bob Watt, Boeing's vice president for government and community affairs, will be the company's main executive in talking with Washington state.

Gov. Gary Locke's office expects transportation relief to be at the top of that list, said Roger Nyhus, his spokesman. "The single biggest thing the Legislature can do this session to help Boeing and ensure Boeing jobs in our region is to pass a transportation package," Nyhus said.

The 7E7 is a super-efficient jetliner that eventually will replace the 767 and 757. Using new materials and technology, the 7E7 is expected to be about 20 percent more efficient than the 767 and the A330-200 made by Airbus.

P-I reporter Angela Galloway can be reached at 360-943-3990 or


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