Friday, August 05, 2011

FAA: Deal set, but toll heavy on Inland Worker's (Washington Bureau Pess-Enterprise) Aug. 4, 2011

FAA: Deal set, but toll heavy on Inland workers

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10:06 PM PDT on Thursday, August 4, 2011

Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Lawmakers struck a deal Thursday to restore funding to the Federal Aviation Administration, signaling an end to a partial shutdown that has cost the agency hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue and forced an estimated 74,000 workers off the job.

The agreement, announced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid , did not, however, come soon enough to prevent the temporary layoffs of scores of construction workers in Riverside County or avert a setback for a major Inland airport project.

"This partial shutdown has hurt a lot of people, it has hurt the economy," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., moments after she learned a deal had been reached. "It's not the way to run this government."
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Still, Boxer and other lawmakers expressed relief that congressional leaders from both parties had resolved the two-week impasse. Under the agreement, the Senate today is expected to approve House-passed legislation funding the agency through mid-September.

"It's a bipartisan compromise, and it would fully fund the FAA," said Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs, "It's unfortunate the Senate didn't do it a week sooner."

The deal came about as Senate leaders were able, by a maneuver known as "unanimous consent," to approve a House bill extending the FAA's operating authority through mid-September, including a provision that eliminates $16.5 million in air service subsidies to 13 rural communities. Passage of the bill is expected today.

Most senators have left the capital for their August recess.

Bono Mack had been in frequent communication with Republican leaders and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood throughout the stalemate. She was particularly concerned about Palm Springs International Airport, where the shutdown halted work on a $14 million air traffic control tower project, sidelining 60 construction workers.

"A good portion of them are unemployed and wondering how to feed their families," Tom Nolan, the airport's executive director, said hours before the agreement was announced.

Even with an impending end to the shutdown, those employees and nearly 70,000 like them who were forced off worksites at airports around the country would not be able to immediately return. It would take time, aviation officials said, for the projects to ramp back up.

An additional 4,000 FAA officials, including more than 200 in California, have also been furloughed since Congress allowed the agency's funding to expire on July 23.

Unable in recent years to reach an agreement on long-term legislation to fund the FAA, Congress has approved 20 short-term extensions to keep the agency at full strength since 2007.

Before leaving Washington last week for their August recess, House Republicans used their majority status to pass another short-term extension bill. But it contains language that would cut subsidies for a program that aids airports in rural communities. Demanding a "clean" extension bill without that language, the Senate -- controlled by Democrats -- had refused to approve that bill before the July deadline.

Air traffic controllers, federal inspectors and other FAA employees remained on the job throughout the shutdown, and federal officials have repeatedly said airport operations and safety were not affected. But the agency's coffers were.

The FAA has been unable to collect airline ticket taxes, which amount to roughly $30 million a day that the agency cannot recoup. As of late Thursday, the lost revenue had exceeded $363 million over the course of the 13-day shutdown, according to a tally released by the American Association of Airport Executives.

Much of the revenue is directed toward airports in the form of grants and reimbursements for a variety of projects. With no one present to administer the money, the shutdown threatened to delay some endeavors, including a $3.1 million security fence project at the Palm Springs International Airport, Nolan said.

Ontario International Airport had no such projects under way and has not been affected by the shutdown, spokeswoman Maria Tesoro-Fermin said.

At San Bernardino International Airport, workers finished a $1.8 million project to replace lights along the runways earlier this year, but closing out the project will wait until FAA officials return to work, said Bill Ingraham, the airport's aviation director. He is awaiting the agency's response to a $29,000 change to the project.

"Until the FAA approves it, I cannot be reimbursed for my expense," he said. "Those are the very people who have been gone."

The end of the shutdown does not spell the end of the debate over FAA funding. Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over the proposed cuts to the subsidies for rural communities.

"It's time to rein in wasteful spending and these subsidies are prime examples of wasteful spending," Bono Mack said.

Staff writers Dug Begley and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Ben Goad at 202-661-8422 or

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