Federal Aviation Administration cuts are the most visible evidence that the “sequester” is dumb. The FAA cuts, which include controller furloughs at big airports and the potential loss of money for controllers who contract to provide service at smaller fields like Boca Raton Airport and Witham Field in Martin County, also point to smarter ways to reduce spending.
Just keep in mind that smarter doesn’t mean painless.
Requiring controllers at larger airports to take days of unpaid leave has led to flight delays across the country. Showing rare bipartisanship, members of Congress have complained that the FAA could have cut $637 million without the furloughs. In other words: cut something that doesn’t bother our constituents. The cuts took effect March 1, and have to come during the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. That compressed time frame magnifies the impact and voids claims that the sequester is just a 2 percent across-the-board reduction.
Many of the same politicians complaining about flight delays could have avoided the dumb mess by enacting a fair package of spending cuts and tax increases as far back as August 2011. Florida Gov. Rick Scott — taking a break from griping about federal profligacy — criticized President Barack Obama for not intervening and alleged that the FAA cuts were “a political move.” Now, in a truly political move, Congress is likely to “find” money for the FAA.
President Obama had hoped to avoid such a piecemeal approach by offering entitlement spending reductions that Democrats hate and tax increases that Republicans shun. Politicians who won’t accept a combination of cuts and taxes are playing politics.
Everybody protects his own turf. The Boca Raton Airport Authority is participating in legal action to stop or postpone the June 15 cutoff of tower funding. But if the feds withhold the roughly $650,000 to staff the tower, the airport would not have to lose the contract controllers.
At the April 17 meeting of the airport authority, David Freudenberg asked fellow board members to make clear the controllers will stay, even if the airport has to pay. “It’s obvious from our financial statement,” he said, “that we are fortunately in the position…that we can afford the tower.” The board’s lawyer promptly warned Mr. Freudenberg and the other board members not to say such a thing, because it could undermine efforts to make the feds keep paying.
The Boca airport, and others, insist that losing controllers would harm safety and economic development. That is an argument for the FAA to keep paying. But it also is an argument for towers that can afford it — with current revenues or with added fees — to pay instead of the FAA. That could be one smart consequence of the dumb sequester.
Jac Wilder VerSteeg
for The Post Editorial Board