States Vary on Importance of Airport Investment

SAJ Editorial

It’s an intriguing dynamic seeing the difference in attitudes across the country concerning airport infrastructure investment during these times of tight state budgets. It’s been interesting to note that while some governors have been quick to back the value of such an investment and the potential return on that investment, others have not. Pennsylvania Governor  Edward G. Rendell recently announced the investment of nearly $3 million for 16 airports to improve safety and facility maintenance. Now, that’s not a lot of money when you divide it between 16 airports, but it’s what else that was said that caught our attention. 

In the release, the Governor said that airports are important assets that can attract new business and create jobs. Nothing new there, for those of us that have been around the industry for a while, but he went on to say that they are making the smart investments necessary to increase economic vitality and facilitate the more than $12 billion in state revenue the aviation industry yields each year.

Now there’s the key – making smart investments! Now contrast that with what’s going on in Arizona. Making smart investments must not include aviation infrastructure in that state. Even though in the last economic impact study released by the Arizona Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division, aviation impacted the state to the tune of $38 billion, we haven’t heard Governor Jan Brewer declaring how important Arizona airports are. In fact, you could assume the opposite was true.

Both Governor Brewer and her predecessor, current Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano apparently did little to discourage the Arizona State Legislature from taking over $40 million from the state’s aviation fund over the last fiscal year to help balance the state’s budget. That money is derived from aviation taxes and is to be reinvested back into the aviation system in Arizona. Granted, politicians have many important programs and projects to consider, but Governor Rendell had it right when he said by investing in our aviation assets we can help sustain our communities and retain jobs across Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, for many Arizona communities and their airports the state will be deferring reimbursement payments for existing airport construction projects and there is no money left for a state grant program in 2010 and probably not the year after. The recent federal stimulus money will provide for some needed airport infrastructure and sustain some jobs, but for Arizona it will take years to recover from the impact of delaying millions of dollars in airport infrastructure projects that are needed now and will end up costing much more later. SAJ