Washington’s job creators need relief, too

By now we’ve all heard about the extra concessions Boeing extracted from the state in exchange for awarding production of the 7E7 to Washington — concessions above and beyond the $3.2 billion tax incentive package approved by the Legislature last year.

Now, everyone agrees the concessions were necessary — other states offered similar incentives to Boeing and had Washington not ponied up, the 7E7 would likely be slated for production elsewhere.

But at the same time the Boeing concessions have highlighted a very serious problem for businesses in Washington State. Clearly, without such generous concessions, the state is not business friendly.

Good for Boeing for obtaining concessions that make Washington a better place for them to do business. Boeing is important to our economy and I’m glad they’re staying.

But other businesses are just as important to our economy and they need help, too.

Take the building industry as one example. While Washington State lost 14,000 manufacturing jobs last year, the building industry nearly offset the loss by creating 11,000 new construction jobs (compare that to the 1,200 new workers Boeing has said it may hire to build the 7E7).

The building industry, through single-family and multi-family construction, generated 102,341 direct jobs and an additional 10,582 spin-off jobs in Washington — more than any other industry. So while Washington’s economy has struggled to pull itself out of the proverbial toilet, builders have been propping the economy up.

So where are our special concessions? Builders would love to receive tax relief, a state-sponsored worker training center (a lack of skilled labor is the top concern facing the building industry), expedited permitting, etc.

But one concession handed to Boeing that is particularly appealing to builders is the provision granting Boeing state protection against environmental lawsuits.

According to the terms of the contract signed by Boeing and Gov. Gary Locke, the Attorney General will defend Boeing (and assume all costs) if any neighborhood or environmental groups sue the company over the 7E7 facility. Wouldn’t builders love to have that benefit.

Developers and builders are consistently sued by no-growth activists to prevent legitimate development. Even after the state, or a local jurisdiction, has approved and issued a permit for a project, a lawsuit filed by disgruntled NIMBYs can bring the project to a screeching halt.

Such lawsuits can drag on for years, regardless of their merit, leaving the project in limbo. Even if the builder ultimately wins the legal challenge, the costs associated with the delays and defending against the lawsuit can be staggering.

These lawsuits cost developers and builders untold millions every year and stop growth and development in its tracks.

So this legislative session the Building Industry Association of Washington is introducing legislation requiring the state to extend the same courtesy to builders and developers. This legislation states that the office of the Attorney General shall assume the entire defense of any lawsuit filed against a builder or developer regarding a project permit granted by the state or a local government.

After all, if the state or a local government has already given the green light on a project, why should builders stand alone in footing the bill to defend this approval?

What is really being challenged is not the project, but government’s approval of the project.

So it is entirely appropriate that the Attorney General step in to defend government’s decision (even more appropriate now that they’ve agreed to do it for Boeing).

Why would the Attorney General not step in to help defend the industry that single-handedly kept the economy afloat during the recession?

Ultimately we wish we didn’t have to resort to using legislation to provide relief for our industry. It is sad that industries such as aerospace manufacturing and building have to hit government up for these types of special favors.

Sad, but necessary.

We wish Gov. Locke would do the right thing and use his substantial power to make sweeping reforms, across the board, to benefit all industries.

Were the state to recognize the importance of keeping Washington friendly for all businesses, there would be no need for such special interest pandering.

Sound Off is a public forum. Articles are selected from letters to the editor or may be written specifically for this feature. Gary Cronce is 2004 president of the Building Industry Association of Washington.

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