Local Airport Closures Cause GOPers Sequestration Anxiety

March 27, 2013 2:00 a.m.

We’ve noted previously that outside Washington D.C. — where politicians and reporters obsess endlessly over inconsequential but high-valence things like White House tours and Easter egg hunts — sequestration is beginning to cause real harm, and political pain.

Now, nearly a month after President Obama was forced to issue the sequestration order, the central source of GOP’s real sequestration anxiety is becoming clear.“I am disappointed to learn of the FAA’s decision to implement the budget sequestration by closing the air traffic control tower in Columbia,” wrote Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO). “This decision is disappointing not only because it presents a safety concern, but it is unwise from a budget perspective as Columbia’s tower is part of the Contract Tower Program that is cost-effective for taxpayers. There is plenty of waste that can be trimmed by administrators implementing the budget sequester and there is absolutely no need to put Columbia workers on unemployment because of the Obama Administration’s poor choices on where to cut.”

Sequestration generally provides agencies little flexibility to determine what parts of their budgets to cut — agencies with broad missions have to cut every program by the same percentage. But the majority of FAA’s employees are air traffic controllers, and as a result, FAA has identified and announced its intent to close nearly 150 relatively low-volume towers to help meet its $600 million sequestration this fiscal year.

A group of Senate Democrats and Republicans led by Jerry Moran (R-KS) attempted to reverse the scheduled closures during the debate over funding the government, and make up the spending cuts with unobligated FAA capital funds, but their amendment did not receive a vote.

The effort reflects a pattern among lawmakers — particularly GOP lawmakers — to decry sequestration cuts in their own states and districts, but decline to support a sequestration replacement plan that includes higher revenue. Instead, they support keeping small airports in their jurisdictions open at the expense of financing improvements at higher-traffic airports.

“I am deeply disappointed with the FAA’s decision to close the air traffic control towers at the Anoka County-Blaine Airport and St. Cloud Regional Airport,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). “Throughout this decision-making process, I have been in touch with FAA and DOT officials urging them to focus first on eliminating waste and trimming non-essential items in the FAA’s budget before they even consider shutting down essential safety operations. Today’s decision shows a troubling lack of priorities–closing control towers should be a last, not a first, resort.”

“There’s no reason the Obama Administration shouldn’t be able to figure out a 2.5 percent spending cut without interrupting Americans’ lives and air travel to communities like Branson and Columbia,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) in a statement last week.

Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Ron DeSantis (R-FL), and others have made similar statements.

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) is concerned that the closure of a tower in his district will imperil the state’s annual Sun ‘n Fun convention.

“I understand the need to make cuts,” Ross said in an official statement. “However, instead of these arbitrary across-the-board cuts which have devastating impacts on entire communities, we must cut waste, fraud, and abuse like the $500 million that the FAA spends on consultants or the $200 million that it spends on office supplies and employee travel. The state’s largest convention, SUN ‘n FUN, which is held in April at Lakeland Linder Airport, not only provides incredible economic value to Lakeland, but it serves our children by investing $1.4 million dollars annually in education. It is unacceptable to close this important control tower. Sun N Fun will now have to pay the FAA $284,000 in order to keep this control tower functioning during the convention. This is more money that they must raise that will not go to help our children who are struggling in school.”

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