The politics of sequestration cuts have forced some difficult decisions.
Here’s one that cropped up last week and it’s still triggering debate.
The choices are:
A.) Stop funding $477,000 in air controller support for a regional airport that is the nation’s busiest over a one-week span, drawing some 10,000 planes and more than half a million aviation enthusiasts from around the world.
B.) Ground one plane and save $60 million to $100 million.
Silly us, no wonder we aren’t in government. We would have chosen Plan B and grounded President Barack Obama’s flight to sub-Saharan Africa later this month and pocketed the change.
That would have neatly covered the bill for FAA air controllers to go to staff the skies at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual AirVenture at Oshkosh.
We know, of course, these are apples and oranges. The FAA is over here in one part of government and is trying hard to make its goal of $637 million this fiscal year.
Obama’s executive branch is not immune either, remember. The administration cut White House tours earlier this year — disappointing hundreds of youngsters and saving a pittance.
And we understand from press reports this week that the White House has also canceled a Tanzanian safari that had been planned for the president and first lady on the African trip because it would have been too expensive.
The safari “would have required the president’s special counter-assault team to carry sniper rifles with high caliber rounds that could neutralize cheetahs, lions or other animals if they became a threat,” the Washington Post reported.
That would have been a remarkable photo op for news organizations, of course, so it’s good to see the White House showing SOME budget restraint.
But let’s put this in perspective from here in Wisconsin.
As we see it:
Going on a safari — or even on a public relations tour to three countries in Africa — is not a core job of the president.
Keeping the skies safe over an airport is a core job of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Yet with less than two months to go before Oshkosh began welcoming fliers from around the world, the FAA basically issued an extortion note to the EAA — pony up $500K for 87 air controllers or they don’t come.
Faced with canceling the massive annual air show, the EAA reluctantly caved in and promised to pay the ransom note under protest. “Let me be clear,” said EAA Chairman Jack Pelton, “we have consistently regarded the FAA’s move as holding AirVenture ... hostage this year.”
“Hostage” is exactly the right word. You don’t cancel the crown jewel of the nation’s air shows on a moment’s notice. The FAA is playing a political card on the sequestration cuts and playing it poorly.
The fact is the EAA AirVenture show is not only a premier air show, it is a tourism boon to the state that generates more than $110 million in economic benefits to the Oshkosh area.
The FAA would have you believe it has some great additional expenses to cover for the air show, but that is simply not true. Along with taxes on commercial air flights, federal aviation fuel taxes paid by general aviation fliers pay for air control operations and FAA operations. As Wisconsin Rep. Tom Petri put it, “Given the amount of fuel taxes this (AirVenture) generates, maybe the FAA should be cutting the EAA a check.”
Petri, other state representatives and 28 U.S. senators are pushing the FAA to reconsider its actions. The FAA is posing a new tax on general aviation without congressional authorization, threatening Wisconsin’s tourism industry and playing a game of chicken with sequestration cuts — all of which are inappropriate and should be rebuffed by Congress.