SOUNDOFF: Take these steps to save Boeing

Seventeen days and 76 votes will tell us if our state has what it takes to keep Boeing and its thousands of jobs in Washington. But it’s not just about Boeing. Nearly two years of warnings from company officials alarmed by Washington’s anti-business climate can be echoed by almost any business in our state.

Our poor business climate has resulted in the recent loss of nearly 100,000 jobs. This creates a ripple effect in public schools and the state’s Basic Health Plan. The Office of Financial Management estimates that for every Boeing manufacturing job lost, the state will lose nearly two additional support jobs.

Gov. Locke’s response has been to issue news releases and host press conferences, but it’s clear that glitzy headlines and ambitious words will not convince Boeing (or any other company) to stick around. Those words must be backed by immediate and decisive action.

If Scoop or Maggie were alive, they wouldn’t be wandering around at Boeing Field tomorrow hosting yet another press conference, they would be in Olympia cracking heads together to bring about immediate solutions. Since they’re not here, we suggest the following:

Congressman Norm Dicks should step into the leadership void and hold a closed-door meeting with representatives from Boeing’s labor unions and Rick Bender of the state Labor Council. They should work to resolve the hostile labor environment that has led to strikes, walkouts and pickets, and talk instead about employees sharing company profits in exchange for labor rest.

Congressman Dicks should then meet with Gov. Locke and the four caucus leaders in the state legislature to develop a specific strategy for resolving the critical factors contributing to Washington’s anti-business climate (for more details, visit www.effwa.org).

After the plan is developed, this team should meet with Boeing’s top executives to discuss it.

And finally, lawmakers should take advantage of the special session to develop legislation that truly reforms unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. Boeing’s UI costs are higher in this state than anywhere else in the world the company does business. Effective legislation would include:

Contracting out to collect overpayments (10.9 percent of all UI benefits are overpayments), such as Oregon and Colorado have successfully done.

Aggressively pursuing fraud.

Offering Boeing a UI tax credit for every new job created by the 7E7 project (up to $270 million, the amount Boeing has overpaid on premiums).

Shortening the maximum duration for collecting UI benefits from 30 to 26 weeks, and freezing the maximum benefit at $496 per week.

(For more details on each of these recommendations, visit www.effwa.org.) We suggest the governor sign these bills into law by June 20, Boeing’s deadline for state proposals vying to host the 7E7 project.

Regardless of what happens after June 20, each and every lawmaker in our state should have a plan for fixing the anti-business climate. While Boeing may be the largest company pulling up stakes, it is by no means the only one.

Currently, state officials operate from one of two philosophies when it comes to addressing the state’s economy and business climate: 1) the belief that a growing government should redistribute wealth generated by productive people, and 2) the belief that a competitive free market inspires innovation, hard work and productivity.

The first philosophy got us into our current mess. The second will get us out if lawmakers have the courage to embrace it. It only requires a few good leaders.

If you go home after passing a budget balanced within forecasted and available revenue, you’ve done well. But it’s very temporary. If you leave without taking meaningful action to save businesses in our state, you are simply setting the clock on a time bomb that will explode in the next budget cycle.

The time for action is now, and it’s up to you.

Bob Williams is president of the Olympia-based Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a pro-business lobbying organization.

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