Editor's Note: This is the second of a two-part series concerning the sequestration cuts that mandate the closure of the Ardmore Airpark control tower and the efforts of the Ardmore Development Authority, state and federal legislators to prevent the shutdown.
Sequestration, which mandated the federal government make cuts to the 2013 fiscal year budget, took effect March 1. But for the cuts that have taken place, Oklahoma's legislative delegation in Washington D.C. says the expense decreases have been implemented in the wrong place and airport control towers, including the one at Ardmore Airpark, have been caught up in the game of politics.
"The across-the-board style of cutting federal spending, as being done through sequestration, was President Obama's idea and unjustly fails to distinguish high-priority programs from low-priority spending," said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.). "I joined my colleague Sen. Toomey in presenting a bill (S.16) that would grant flexibility to how these cuts take place and, unfortunately, the President has issued a veto threat against it. Instead he is playing politics with public safety by closing contract air traffic control towers. The post-sequestration FAA operations budget is still nearly $200 million more than it was when President Obama came into office. It is difficult to understand how a 5 percent cut in the FAA budget can result in the shuttering of all contract towers nationwide. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to find solutions to avoiding the most damaging effects of sequestration, but I am determined to also hold this administration accountable for the way it implements budget cuts."
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said he routinely looks at wasteful spending and in a letter to Ray LaHood, FAA Secretary Mar. 6, pointed out various spending issues within the FAA. Coburn called for the FAA to cancel upcoming conferences, eliminate low-priority jobs and non-essential hiring to compensate for the budget cuts rather than eliminate the control towers.
Targeting wasteful spending would have resulted in the control towers never being under the threat of closure, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said.
"If the sequester cuts were designed to target wasteful programs, Oklahoma's contract control towers would never be on the list," he said. "They are actually cost efficient and important resources for economic development and, in some cases, military transportation. Oklahoma's entire congressional delegation supports revising the sequester to replace arbitrary cuts with more targeted reductions to focus only on wasteful spending. Rather than use sequester to score political points, the Obama administration needs to sit down and negotiate with Congress to make the cuts smarter and more sensible."
Members of the Ardmore Development Authority met with state legislators at the State Capitol Thursday. Chris Bryant, Airpark General Manager, said the chances of getting federal funds back after they have been eliminated is slim to none. Initial estimates of operating the control tower are $600,000 annually, but those costs could be cut with new hours of operation implemented. Currently, the hours are 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the weekends.
Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, said something would need to be done, noting other legislators will have districts affected by the closure.
"We haven't discussed this much at this point, but there will be push," he said. "There is a lot of china that breaks when an announcement like this comes out."
Sen. Frank Simpson said he was concerned the cuts announced will not be the first states will have to deal with. The option of using state funds to help communities operate the control towers was discussed.
"This is not the first budget crisis we will have to pay for," Simpson said.
Ardmore Development Authority Interim President Brian Carter and Mita Bates, ADA Vice President, told legislators the ADA would be able share the cost in an effort to protect the airpark's businesses and interests.
"Everybody needs to put some skin in the game," Carter said.