EDITOR'S NOTE: This long two part blog post documents that "crony capitalism" is alive and well in Oregon. Call, e-mail or talk to your state legislators to complain about this waste of taxpayer dollars!
One Airport for Every 14 Pilots, Only One School for Every 433 Public School Children
By Miki Barnes, OREGON AVIATION WATCH, Testimony to Oregon Transportation Commission, July 17th,
Salem Convention Center Oregon's Skewed Funding Priorities
Over the past decade while laying off teachers, increasing class sizes, cutting educational funds, slashing services for the mentally ill, raising college tuition, eroding environmental safeguards, and neglecting the arts, the state and the federal government have invested millions of dollars into Oregon airport projects that benefit an affluent few.
According to the Oregon Department of Aviation (ODA) annual report for 2009-2010, as of 2008 there were 97 public use and over 350 private use airports for a combined total of 447 general aviation airports in Oregon to serve the state's 6,032 pilots. This number, which represents less than one-sixth of one percent of the state's total population, translates into a ratio of 13.49 pilots to each GA airport in the state.
By contrast, the Oregon Blue Book states that during the 2010-2011 school year Oregon administered 1,296 public schools for the 561,328 kindergarten through twelfth grade students enrolled (14.4 % of the state’s population), a ratio of 433 students per school. Thus the proportion of airports per Oregon pilot exceeds the school to student ratio 32 times over.
Every dollar spent on aviation translates into less funding for job creation in the public sector where educators, health care providers, social service workers, affordable housing specialists, and environmental advocates are desperately needed.
An assessment of the literature on airport funding exposes the entrenched system of corporate welfare that pervades the aviation system not only in Oregon but throughout the country - an unsustainable situation that has led to a chronic reliance by the aviation sector on public funding while maintaining the false pretense of creating jobs and fueling the economy. In order to preserve this imbalanced system, numerous public sector employees have either lost their jobs due to lay-offs or were never hired in the first place due to job creation failure.
Temporary Assistance to Needy Airports (TANA) Proposal
In the 1990's during the Clinton administration, the welfare to work program was initiated in response to a determination that public assistance fostered an unhealthy reliance on government programs. Reducing federal spending was also a stated goal. These sentiments ultimately led to the launch of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program - a core tenet of which was that individuals receiving benefits were expected to be self-sustaining within the space of a few years.
A similar approach should be instituted to address airport funding, particularly airports that primarily serve general aviation activity as opposed to commercial passenger service. Many airport owners and their tenants have received public assistance for decades, and as a result, have evidently failed to develop the business acumen to maintain their residential airparks or to run their aviation businesses without the benefit of public handouts.
Clearly, subsidizing the one percent that historically utilizes Oregon's general aviation airports is proving to be an expensive and onerous burden. The time has come to stanch this economic hemorrhage and redirect these monies towards much needed investments in education, the social services, the arts, affordable housing, the environment, and responsible transportation alternatives. For far too long the 99 percent have underwritten the financial demands of entitled corporate jet and private aircraft owners who anticipate living on the public dole into perpetuity.
Funding Oregon's Airports — A Losing Proposition
Despite massive public subsidies the majority of Oregon's airports, most of which serve private aviation related business interests, either fail to generate revenue or chronically lose money.
Per the Oregon State Department of Aviation, "Since 2009, over 289 million dollars in FAA funds and over 89 million in ConnectOregon funding have maintained and improved the infrastructure of Oregon airports." The primary beneficiaries of this lavish 378 million dollar outlay are an affluent few who own and operate their own airports, own private aviation related businesses and flight training schools, can afford to invest in multi-million-dollar jets, and those with the financial wherewithal to own private aircraft and helicopters worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In other words, scarce federal and state dollars are routinely funneled into the hands of the top one percent and other high end wage earners while simultaneously and habitually shortchanging education, the environment, social services, health care, high speed rail, the arts, and other worthy programs.
Aron Faegre, an airport planner who has been involved in many statewide airport consulting and expansion projects, describes general aviation as, "all of the various aircraft operations for business, private, public, and recreation activities that are not under the category of scheduled airline or freight, or military." He notes that "since the 1980's the economics of general aviation (GA) has been weak."
Faegre puzzles over why general aviation airports that receive 95% of their funding from the federal government still have a hard time breaking even and aptly points out, "Any private developer of commercial or industrial properties would love to have 95% funding for their projects."  Alarmingly, Faegre's so-called "solution" involves privatizing airports while continuing to take millions from public coffers.
An example of this privatization model is Aurora Airport, where most of the businesses that benefit from this funding scheme are located on adjacent properties rather than within the boundaries of the airport.
Though the FAA frowns on this arrangement, the state advocates allowing them to access the airport via private taxiways. This approach to privatization requires the public to foot the bill for infrastructure including air traffic control towers, runway rehabilitation projects, airport expansions, and more, so that well-heeled airport owners and business interests can profit at public expense.
To make up the 5% to 10% not funded through the FAA, airport owners and aviation interests seek funding through the Oregon Department of Aviation, the Oregon Department of Transportation and grants via ConnectOregon and other state programs.
Due to changes in the FAA Reauthorization Reform Act of 2012, the federal government now covers only 90% of the expense of running an airport, which may help to explain why Oregon's 2013 budget intends to allocate not only lottery dollars but also to raid the general fund in an effort to underwrite these questionable projects.
Why are the federal government and the state foisting the cost of subsidizing non-revenue generating transportation boondoggles onto Oregon residents who neither use nor benefit from these facilities? The documented history of financial losses at these airports suggests that this floundering business model runs counter to the greater good.