Sequester prompts Texas governor to take over municipal airports

Considering gas tax revenues are the primary source of funding for TxDOT, this is yet another diversion of road taxes for non-road purposes.

By Terri Hall | April 9, 2013

It sounds like something you’d hear on April Fools’ Day, but in Texas, Governor Rick Perry and his highway department are quite serious. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced it plans to take over operations of 13 municipal airports across the state whose federal funding was lost due to cuts triggered by sequestration.

Perry asked TxDOT to temporarily pay for air traffic controllers, presumably, for public safety, but it’s no coincidence that the governor and his Transportation Commissioners jet set into and out of these small airports for state business, though commercial air travel is much more cost effective for taxpayers. It appears this airport stopgap will directly benefit the governor and his highway commissioners. Perry also uses these airports for campaign travel, especially when he ran for president in 2012.

Is this really an ’emergency’?

The primary clientele at municipal airports are corporate jets. So between the state travel and corporate executives, few Texans will see this as a legitimate ’emergency’ that warrants the expenditure of millions in state taxpayer dollars.

Taking over airport operations expands TxDOT’s role in aviation. Up until now, the department’s aviation division simply built runways and taxiways for these municipal airports. Now, it’s venturing into actual operations of the airports at a time when TxDOT’s budget is cash-strapped and will run out of money to build and maintain Texas highways beyond next year. To add salt to the wound, Perry drained $2.6 million in state gas tax revenues for his 2012 presidential campaign travel in order to pay for his security detail.

Certainly, the 25 million Texans who depend on state highways for daily living would put a higher priority on building and maintaining our roads than bailing out the federal government’s responsibility to pay air traffic controllers who staff these small airports and to keep open what amounts to corporate airports that also accommodate state government jet-setting.

The Transportation Commission held an emergency special meeting April 4 to approve expending funds to maintain the air traffic control operations at these 13 municipal airports. The Commission will re-evaluate the program after 90 days. TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson says he hopes the federal government will resolve the operational funding of these airports by then.

Considering gas tax revenues are the primary source of funding for TxDOT, this is yet another diversion of road taxes for non-road purposes, an abuse that’s stirred up the grassroots for decades. So, once again it’s taxpayers who are being played the fool.

Terri Hall is the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), which defends against eminent domain abuse and promotes non-toll transportation solutions. She’s a home school mother of eight turned citizen activist. Ms. Hall is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.