OLYMPIA – State officials were clearly rattled this week by Boeing’s decision to spend $580 million to buy a South Carolina plant that makes parts for the company’s delayed new 787 aircraft.
Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office fired out a brief statement at 5:45 a.m. Tuesday. She said the company had assured her “that no decision has been made on a potential second (assembly) line for the 787, and that today’s announcement doesn’t have anything to do with that.”
With Boeing and other aerospace companies accounting for 15 percent of the state’s economy, according to Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, state officials are desperate to keep those aircraft assembly jobs in Washington.
But Hewitt, other Republicans and business leaders quickly seized on Boeing’s move as evidence that the Evergreen State’s not doing all it can to keep the massive employer (and taxpayer) here. Several cited strikes by Boeing workers as part of the problem.
“Airlines simply can’t make billion-dollar decisions on new aircraft and then face the prospect of delivery delays because of labor disputes,” said John Stanton, who heads the Washington Roundtable business group. “… If Seattle wants to keep Boeing, they better stand up and show it, because there are dozens of other states that will welcome the jobs and the economic activity.”
Hewitt cited a recent aerospace competitiveness report that listed top concerns as labor-management relations and costs like unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation and taxes. He blasted Democrats for “a myriad of business-busting bills” in Olympia.
These same sorts of jitters led then-Gov. Gary Locke and nervous lawmakers to approve a $3 billion package of tax incentives for the company five years ago.
Pick your poison
I ran across an interesting list recently while writing about budget-related changes at the state’s Poison Center, including forking over $30 on your credit card to get telephone advice about a poisoned pet. (The center fields a surprising number of these calls. The victims include iguanas, guinea pigs, spiders and fish.)
Among humans, deaths from unintentional drug overdoses are now the No. 1 cause of accidental deaths in Washington, said the center’s medical director, Dr. William Hurley.
What’s ailing us? Here’s the center’s “top 10 human poisonings list for 2008.”
•Diaper-rash products (eaten, presumably)
•Ethanol (better known as liquor, wine and beer)
•Antihistamines like Zyrtec and Claritin
•Silica gel (those little white “do not eat” packets that keep dry foods dry)
•Systemic antibiotics (often used for acne)
The fall ballot: what made it, what didn’t
So what measures will voters see on the November ballot?
Well, you won’t see Initiative 1043, which would have required the state to verify that someone’s a citizen or legal immigrant before issuing them a driver’s license or most public benefits. It also would have banned nonprofit groups from offering illegal immigrants help finding a job.
Backers apparently tried to put the measure on autopilot, printing full-sized petitions in papers in Yakima and Spokane (including The Spokesman-Review) and then hoping that the mailbox would fill up with the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed.
It didn’t work. At least not in time. The deadline for signatures was Thursday.
“Though Respect Washington’s mailbox recently overflowed with petition returns following placement of 186,000 petitions in newspapers statewide, more weeks would have been necessary to accumulate the required 241,153 signatures,” the group said in a recent e-mail to supporters.
The group vowed to try again next year.
Also faltering this year were ballot measures that would have:
•banned “use of public money or lands for anything that denies or attempts to refute the existence of a supreme ruler of the universe,”
•repealed the state’s business tax in favor of a flat corporate income tax,
•created a state-run health insurance agency,
•and repealed the state’s helmet law for motorcyclists, as well as the laws requiring people to wear seat belts and wear orange for some hunting.
Still in play is Referendum 71, which asks voters to do away with a new law granting registered domestic partners most of the rights and responsibilities of spouses. Since it’s a referendum rather than an initiative, the deadline is three weeks later.
And last but not least, Tim Eyman and Spokane associates Mike and Jack Fagan on Thursday dropped off what they said was 314,277 signatures for their Initiative 1033. The measure would limit city, county and state general-fund revenues to increasing at the rate of inflation and population growth. Anything over that would be put in a special fund that would go toward lowering property taxes.
With about 70,000 signatures more than required, Eyman said the measure’s “a slam-dunk” to make it onto the ballot. (Still, election workers will check, comparing a sample of signatures to those on voters’ registration cards.)
Here’s a thumbnail of the arguments you can expect from both sides in the coming months:
Eyman: “This is a clear message from the voters to all governments in Washington state that we don’t have bottomless wallets.”
Opposition spokesman Christian Sinderman: If it passes, Washingtonians will see less maintenance of roads and sidewalks, less care for senior citizens, more crowded classrooms “and a general degradation in the things we hold dear.”
Four months ’til Election Day.