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Washington special legislative session starts Thursday

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a news conference Tuesday where he called a special session to start Thursday. Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, left, and Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, stand next to Inslee at the podium. (Jim Camden)
Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a news conference Tuesday where he called a special session to start Thursday. Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, left, and Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, stand next to Inslee at the podium. (Jim Camden)

OLYMPIA – The Washington Legislature will meet in a special session starting Thursday to consider a $10 billion transportation package and other legislation Gov. Jay Inslee said is key to landing the manufacturing plant for a new Boeing jetliner.

Standing with legislative leaders, Boeing executives and union officials, Inslee said a combination of transportation improvements, extended tax breaks, faster permits for building and aerospace education programs would guarantee the company will build the new jetliner and a new carbon-fiber wing in Washington.

The current 777 facility supports 56,000 jobs, and the new plane will create thousands more, Inslee said: “These jobs are ours if we act now.”

While he contended the Legislature could agree to all the bills in seven days, legislative leaders cast some doubt on that time frame. There is no agreement yet on what taxes would be raised to pay for the transportation package, or how it would be spent among the state’s different needs for new roads and the maintenance of existing roads and bridges. Some legislators also want significant reforms in the way the state contracts and pays for major projects.

“There’s a lot of moving pieces,” said Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, the head of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus.

While other legislation might be approved in a special session, the transportation package “might have to be a second phase,” Tom said. The Legislature is scheduled to start a regular session in January.

Boeing and its Machinists union reached a tentative agreement on a long-term contract and the rank-and-file will vote on the pact next week. Coupled with that contract, Inslee said the legislation he is proposing “will guarantee that the 777X and its carbon-fiber wing will be built in Washington state.”

Action on a transportation package proved difficult early this year, during the Legislature’s regular session and two subsequent special sessions. In the last two months, the Senate Transportation Committee has held public meetings around the state and heard from hundreds of citizens. Although Inslee said he expects a package of about $10 billion worth of projects over 10 years, there’s no firm number on what taxes would be raised or a list of projects that would be included. Inslee mentioned projects all over the state, including the completion of the North Spokane Corridor, as being key to ensuring that “our state doesn’t lose its economic future.”

One project that proved a major stumbling block for a transportation package during the previous sessions, the proposed Columbia River Crossing project between Vancouver and Portland, would not be included, Inslee said.

Although an aide said Inslee expects the package to pass the Legislature without a requirement for a public vote, Tom noted that the number of signatures needed to force it onto the ballot is relatively small.

“Eventually, I believe the voters will have a chance to vote on it,” he said.

Inslee will also propose the state extend tax exemptions on buildings that manufacture “superefficient airplanes.” Those are scheduled to expire in 2024, and Inslee is proposing they be extended to 2040. That extension would save Boeing about $8 billion through 2040.

Although Inslee said he would like the Legislature to complete its work in seven days, under the state constitution a special session can last for 30 days and can’t be limited to the legislation the governor is proposing.

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