In the end, it took the pressure of two Senate Republican hawksJohn McCain of Arizona and Peter Fitzgerald of Illinoisto force Boeing to face serious consequences for its latest assault on taxpayer dollars.
• Since Phil Condit took over, it's been one thing after another. And the bigger Boeing's grown, the more unmanageable it's become. By Chuck Taylor MORE
• A New Ethical Era for the Sleazy B? Don't count on it.
By Rick Anderson MORE
Where was our own Sen. Patty Murray? See no evil, hear no evil, smell no evil.
Even though Boeing corporate executives fled for Chicago accompanied by the frenzied wailing of our state's highest political echelons Boeing still exerts a remarkable hold on the people who represent and run our state. Boeing's headquarters is now in Peter Fitzgerald's statebut there are no Fitzgeralds here. In this past year's most notable farce, our state Legislature convenes again next month to wrestle with still more budget cuts after enacting, with a strong push from Gov. Gary Locke, a deal last spring that lavished money on Boeing, some of it regardless of whether the company located a coveted 7E7 final assembly plant here. Even though most of the project's components will be made overseas, the Locke deal could en-sure state deficits for decades. The $3.5 billion incentives package was so laden with gifts from our cash-strapped state that one provision even gives Boeing a $20 million tax credit for computer equipment it bought years ago. In some countries, that's called a bribe. Here, and in countless locales trying to lure the 7E7's final assembly plant, it's how Boeing makes money.
In exchange for decades of such fealty, Boeing executives, led by CEO Phil Condit, have steadily stripped jobs away from the Puget Sound region, often outsourcing them to other countries. The company has also steadily moved, since the mid-1990s, to rely on military contractsa good deal of Boeing's potential profitability now comes from its effectiveness in sucking at the federal taxpayer teat.
That's why the Air Force tanker fiasco has struck so close to the company's bone, and why it's such a telling commentary on whom our state's politicians are, and are not, looking out for. Condit's forced resignation came two days after a letter from McCain and Fitzgerald urged the Pentagon to postpone its multibillion-dollar contract for 100 air-refueling tankers, a contract given the force of law by a defense appropriations bill signed by President Bush last week.
FITZGERALD AND especially McCain have been criticizing the tanker deal for months. Meanwhile, Murray was whimpering that the deal was already the "most scrutinized ever"why look at it further? Only a month ago, Murray, Sen. Maria Cantwell, and Reps. Norm Dicks and Rick Larsenall Democratswere climbing over each other trying to claim credit for having "won" the tanker deal for a company that no longer lives here and, more and more, doesn't work here, either.
It's been years since Boeing was that hometown-boy-made-good story. Its annual income now rivals gross domestic products of Eastern Europe's larger countries. But for its enthusiastic reliance on research and development, marketing, and financing costs and military contracts paid for by American taxpayers, Boeing owes little loyalty to any country, let alone any state or metropolitan area. A relatively minor investmenta few dozen D.C. lobbying firms, a phalanx of former Congress members, Department of Defense officials, and generals on its board and lobbyist rollsgets the company a whole lot of our money, plus two of our senators, several of our U.S. representatives, and more politicians in the 37 or so other states where Boeing has facilities.
In large part, this can happen because we let it. Murray, Locke, and the rest face almost no public outcry when they give our future away based on a 1960 construct. The days of a "senator from Boeing" should be long gone, in a diversified state economy, along with offset deals and global outsourcing, and especially with state fiscal crises and with a post-9/11 spending environment in which vast fortunes are being slipped into military spending bills while nobody's looking.
The cost to us is the money Boeing doesn't pay in taxes, the money Boeing gets from our taxes, and all the other ways that governments can't spend that lost money, on education, say, or health care or job training for all our laid-off aerospace workers. For years, Boeing has been successfully getting laws rewritten for its benefit. The stalled tanker deal, like some of its other recent fiascos, are less an aberration than a measure of Boeing's ambition and willingness to push the envelope for the sole benefit of its stockholders and stunningly overpaid execs like Condit.
It's a shame our state's taxpayers have to be defended by senators from other states. Boeing doesn't need people like Patty Murray or Gary Locke, but we do. It's time they decided whose side they're on.