Aviation business professionals say it was glaringly obvious what the Federal Aviation Administration was up to with its initiative to cut off funding to “contract” air traffic control towers. If you want to get a politician’s attention, promise to whack contract towers at around 150 regional airports and shut down another 30 or so towers operated by FAA controllers.
It works every time.
The plan, the aviation pros say, was to make the cuts mandated by the federal budget sequester so onerous Congress would step in to stop them from actually happening. To ensure its plan worked, the FAA even moved the deadline for shutting off the fund from April 7 to June 15.
It didn’t take long for U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker to take the bait. Now the FAA has set the hook and is reeling in the Magnolia State’s junior senator.
You’ll recall Wicker and fellow Mississippian Sen. Thad Cochran on an August day in 2011 voted for the funding sequester as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, or S.365. The two Republican senators were joined by the rest of the state’s congressional delegation – Rep. Alan Nunnelle, Rep. Greg Harper and Rep. Steven Palazzo – minus Rep. Bennie Thompson, the state’s lone congressional Democrat.
The idea behind the sequester that Mississippi’s GOP lawmakers endorsed was to force a compromise on a fiscal plan or have automatic, across-the-board cuts enacted starting March 1, 2013.
March 1 came and went without a deal. The FAA, meanwhile, got the job of finding $640 million in cuts. Those control towers around the country that help ensure the safety of commercial and general aviation pilots and passengers stood as inviting targets for an FAA looking to inflict pain sufficient to get the attention of Congress.
So far so good, at least for the FAA.
No one – least of all Sen. Wicker – wants those towers shut down. Scheduled to be sacrificed in this developing game of chicken are Mississippi towers at Jackson’s Hawkins Field, Tupelo Regional, Bay St. Louis’ Stennis International, Greenville’s Mid Delta Regional, and Olive Branch. Contract towers at Golden Triangle Regional and Meridian’s Key Field won military-necessity exemptions.
Wicker issued a press release Friday to let Mississippians know he’s going to bat for the state’s regional airports. In the best tradition of politics, he blamed President Obama for the pending shutdowns, leaving out mention of his affirmative vote for the across-the-board cuts back in August 2011 and the president’s pleas for a budget deal in the days leading to the decision to put a sequester on the calendar.
Here’s the deal, at least as voiced by Wicker: “Last month, I cosponsored an amendment to prevent the Obama administration from shutting down air traffic control towers across the country. Sequestration requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to trim its budget by more than $600 million, or about 5 percent. Rather than seeking responsible cost-saving measures, the agency decided to slash funding to its Contract Tower Program – potentially putting public safety and jobs at risk.”
Wicker makes an especially valid point here: “It is unreasonable to reduce funding for the Contract Tower Program by a harsh 75 percent when sequestration will affect the entire FAA budget by only 5 percent.”
Exactly, Sen. Wicker.
The lesson here is to not leave the tough decisions to someone else. If the FAA had not made the cuts draconian you would not have cared. Nor would you have come to realize the error of endorsing a blind slicing and dicing of the federal budget in the first place.
Good luck putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.