Friday, August 5, 2011

Shamelessly gambling Main Street in fight over FAA

It's common wisdom these days that the things that happen in the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C., have no impact at home on Main Street.

However common, it's wrong.

The failure of Congress to extend funding for the Federal Aviation Administration created a ludicrous scene in a nation beset by unemployment and recession.

The failure shut down 250 airport projects and put 24,000 construction workers out of work and onto already bulging unemployment rolls. It forced the FAA to lay off 4,000 employees, some who are responsible for planning a new airport to serve the Sun Valley area.

This meant that the Blaine County Airport Authority had no one to answer questions about the email it received from the FAA saying an environmental impact statement on a new airport site had been delayed. It left the authority, which oversees an airport that the FAA said must be replaced, wondering what the nation's projected loss of $1 billion in revenue from uncollected airline ticket taxes through Labor Day could mean for the future of the local airport and the economy.

As a result of congressional inaction, 40 federal safety inspectors, who travel from airport to airport every week, were working for nothing and traveling on their own dime with no guarantee that they would ever be paid for their efforts.

Though Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood insisted that safety at American airports wasn't affected, it was inexcusable that a radical Republican minority in Congress made oversight of general airport safety dependent upon the generosity of volunteers.

Shutdown of the FAA and surrender of $1 billion in revenue seemed to be a meaningless exercise in gambling by some careless representatives who inserted a "poison pill" into funding legislation that would harm unions and shut down tiny, subsidized, out-of-the-way airports.

If gambling away big bucks generated by airports was no big deal, what could possibly be next?

Idaho's economy needs safe and reliable air service. Tourism is a $3.5 billion industry in the state and employs 24,600 people. Airports are a major underpinning of this segment of the economy.

It's impossible to understand why, in this bogged-down and fragile economy, elected representatives would inflict even more damage than the nation has already sustained. To what end?

Late-breaking reports yesterday said the FAA shutdown could be resolved temporarily today. But the shutdown and the just-ended debt-ceiling standoff paint a disturbing picture of what may lie ahead if Congress remains in the grip of fiscal insanity.

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