Oklahoma City is our savvier nemesis

May 6, 2015


By Danny Westneat May 6, 2015

I'm getting a complex about Oklahoma City. They keep stealing our stuff.

First it was the Sonics. Although seven years have passed, and whatever they renamed that team still hasn't won an NBA title. So we're over that. Right?

Then it was our elephants. Personally, I was over that immediately.

But now it's our Boeing engineers. About 900 Boeing defense workers, mostly engineers, are being spirited away – at least their jobs are – to "The Big Friendly," which is what some boosters want everyone to call Oklahoma City these days.

The Big Poacher is more like it. Why can't they take something we're all sick of? Like the anarchists.

Seriously, what's really sticking in my craw about Oklahoma City is: They seem savvier than we are.

Take the Boeing engineers. It was revealed last week what Oklahoma City taxpayers had to pony up to woo Boeing to shift those 900 engineering jobs down there (as well as have the company build an $80 million state-of-the-art research facility.)

It's only $6 million. That's just $6,666 of subsidy per job.

According to a resolution passed by the Oklahoma City Economic Development Trust, in return the company must create a specific number of new jobs – 900 – over the course of three years, and build the new facility.

Then … that's it. No more obligation for the taxpayers.

The resolution notes the jobs "will be relocated to Oklahoma City from other Boeing locations," graciously refraining from adding, "just like the Sonics were, baby!!!!!"

Six million is a rounding error in the bonanza we showered on Boeing. Our deal, at $8.7 billion the largest corporate tax break ever granted by a state, has no specific job guarantees, and lasts until the year 2040.

I looked again at the fiscal estimates for our deal, passed during a three-day confetti party, I mean special legislative session, in late 2013. What we get for it is the new 777X plant, which Boeing has started building. That program will employ an estimated 3,700. By comparison, the current 777 line employs 3,400 (and will be phased out eventually, as the new plane is brought into production).

Getting Boeing to stay here is definitely better than seeing it leave. As for the total jobs created, though, nobody really knows.

What Boeing gets are tax breaks across all its operations in this state, not just the 777X. This year, it's about $180 million in excused taxes. By 2040, it will have risen to more than $700 million just for that year.

Despite all that, at a legislative hearing this spring one Boeing engineer after another trooped to the mike to tell how their jobs were being shipped out of the region, mostly to Oklahoma City. It's a double whammy, they said, because Boeing still gets its tax breaks here, and also gets the incentives from Oklahoma City. Net Boeing job loss in this state since we passed the 2013 tax breaks: 3,000.

"I support the tax breaks," said Tom Gendzwill, a Boeing engineer in Bellevue. "But none of us ever thought the tax breaks would subsidize Boeing's expenses for moving our jobs out of state."

Summed up Thomas Cafcas, of the nonprofit Good Jobs First: "No state has given so much money with so few strings attached."

We could change that. There's a measure, House Bill 2147, to tie the tax breaks to specific job targets, as other places have done. The bill isn't anti-Boeing – the 777X plant is in the prime sponsor's district, and her husband worked at Boeing.

It also wouldn't mean Boeing has to add jobs here, only that if it doesn't, it won't get the full sweep of the tax benefits.

But this bill isn't expected to pass. It's hard psychologically, because lawmakers would first have to acknowledge that they got fleeced. Then they'd have to go in and drive a tougher bargain. Like our stalker city keeps doing to us.

Be more like Oklahoma City – that's a tough sell around here.