More than the usual exchange of cold and flu germs occurred among lawmakers in Olympia this session.
An outbreak of a rare virus indiscriminately infected Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate on Day One and shows no signs of abating before they adjourn next week. It is a strain of Boeing Fatigue Syndrome, a political disorder characterized by extreme exhaustion from repeated legislative genuflecting at the altar of the aerospace giant.
Historically it’s manifested itself among a handful of members of the Legislature unafraid of vocally criticizing a corporation that is vital to keeping Washington’s economy alive and healthy. But the illness has spread in recent months and symptoms are present in nearly every one of the 147 lawmakers.
Many started experiencing fatigue soon after casting a vote in a November special session to extend tax breaks that could save the company an estimated $8.7 billion on future sales of the new 777X jetliner. When these legislators arrived in Olympia in January, they believed their action had inoculated them from further requests from the aerospace firm in 2014. So just the mention of Boeing caused lawmakers’ eyes to bulge, faces to redden, and mouth to blurt, “Haven’t we done enough for them already?”
This explains why lawmakers have roundly ignored Gov. Jay Inslee’s request for funds for two aerospace-related initiatives aimed in the direction of the Boeing Co. Writers of the House and Senate budgets did not include $500,000 for Washington State University to establish a School of Advanced Manufacturing and Aerospace in Everett. Nor did they put in $500,000 for the University of Washington to develop an advanced manufacturing facility in Snohomish County.
The governor hasn’t made a big deal of it—maybe he’s battling the midwinter ailment too—and no lawmaker representing Snohomish County has either. Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, drafted an amendment to the House budget to cover both items but withdrew it before it could be voted on.
And remember how the governor and some Democrats regularly touted the importance of a multi-billion dollar transportation funding package to Boeing and the aerospace industry? Not only did they stop using that line, there’s almost no chance there will even be a package agreed upon this session.
Another sign of fatigue: Republicans have long argued that without reforms to the state’s workers compensation system Boeing could up and leave. Republicans still want reforms but aren’t wielding Boeing as a rhetorical hammer.
To their credit, Boeing lobbyists recognized the mood of lawmakers early in the session and are making themselves pretty scarce.
There’s good news for the firm, as most legislators will make a full recovery March 14. That’s the first day they can raise money for their re-election campaigns. There may be no better cure for this syndrome than a contribution from Boeing.