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Aerospace industry wins and loses in Olympia

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By Michelle Dunlop
Herald Writer
Published:
Washington's aerospace industry and its boosters won some and lost some during this year's lengthy legislative session in Olympia.
There were victories in workforce training and education and certain tax exemptions that benefit maintenance, repair and overhaul companies like Everett's Aviation Technical Services. But transportation, a key priority for the industry as oft-mentioned by Gov. Jay Inslee, fell by the wayside on the final day of the session last weekend.
Linda Lanham, executive director of the Aerospace Futures Alliance, an industry lobbying group, overall was upbeat about the implications for the state's aerospace supply chain.
"I think we did really well," Lanham said, noting successes on workforce training and the aforementioned tax exemption. "We got several bills that helped a lot of the suppliers."
As for how the state's largest aerospace company, Boeing, might view the session, Lanham wasn't optimistic. The lobbyist expressed disappointment that a compromise couldn't be reached on pollution standards on water discharged by large facilities like Boeing's Renton and Everett factories. Boeing and other aerospace companies were pushing for a study on fish consumption to re-examine whether tougher standards are actually necessary.
"I'd be concerned about what kind of message that sends Chicago," home of Boeing's corporate headquarters, "about our competitiveness," Lanham said.
Here's a look at the Legislature's aerospace-related action, and inaction, this year in Olympia:
Passed: Workforce development, tax exemptions
In February, Inslee addressed the industry for the first time as governor, speaking to about 400 aerospace leaders at a conference in Lynnwood.
"The most important thing I can do is to provide skilled workers to you," he told them.
And the Legislature came through on many education and workforce training initiatives supported by the aerospace industry:
•$5 million for an aerospace training facility in Renton.
$300,000 in grants for 12 high schools to launch aerospace assembly programs this year.
Up to $2.5 million to continue a student loan program for aerospace training at institutions such as the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center at Paine Field in Everett.
More than $100 million to build facilities for science, technology, engineering and math education at state universities and community colleges.
$3 million to fund the Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation, which promotes collaboration between the industry and Washington's research centers.
Meanwhile, lawmakers exempted non-resident-owned aircraft from sales and use taxes, a move that will benefit Aviation Technical Services at Paine Field. The state wasn't collecting those taxes anyway because private aircraft owners from out of state would fly their jets elsewhere for repair work rather than pay Washington's taxes.
"That was a tough one to get passed," Lanham said.
Lawmakers also exempted large aircraft in storage from state property tax, which should create jobs in Moses Lake. Lanham estimates as many as 300 jobs could be created, though she cautioned it wouldn't happen immediately.
No action: Transportation, fish study, workers comp
Early in the session, Inslee added transportation as a top priority for addressing the needs of the aerospace industry. On Wednesday, he expressed disappointment in Senate majority leaders for not seeing to passage of a $10 billion transportation package.
"Senate leaders failed to deliver one of the most critical job-creation and economic-development investments -- a comprehensive transportation plan," Inslee said.
Workers compensation reform also has long been on the industry's list of wants from Washington lawmakers. That didn't happen this session, noted lobbyist Lanham.
Another point of contention for the industry was the failure to pass a study on fish consumption by Washingtonians. The study would have taken another look at whether tougher policies were needed on pollutants discharged in water by industrial facilities like Boeing's factories in Everett and Renton.
"I thought waiting six months to do that study wasn't asking a lot," Lanham said.
Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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