Congresswoman Lois Capps and Santa Barbara Mayor Helene discuss how the current FAA shutdown is effecting (among other things) the last phases of construction at the Santa Barbara Airport 08/04/2011
Paul Wellman

The Santa Barbara Airport’s new terminal, a $37 million project unveiled last June, currently stands little over three-fourths complete due to a 13-day partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after partisan disagreement in Congress. But just hours after a press conference held on the airport grounds Thursday, in which Congressmember Lois Capps and Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider voiced their frustration with Washington over the deadlock and a failure to reauthorize a short-term contract for Santa Barbara, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced an extension of FAA operations through September 16.

Santa Barbara Airport
Paul Wellman

“This agreement does not resolve the important differences that still remain,” said Reid. “But I believe we should keep Americans working while Congress settles its differences, and this agreement will do exactly that.”

Before the announcement, the Santa Barbara Airport was facing the possibility of not receiving a $2.7 million construction grant to finish the new terminal, and being forced to use reserve funds to pay for the final work. Now, it appears, that federal money is again available.

The settlement was reached amid heated debate over the debt ceiling, sparked by worker and labor union outrage by Congress’s decision to take a five-week vacation before the FAA issue was resolved. The development was headed by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who, addressing Congress, asserted his authority to issue waivers to communities affected by air service cuts contained in the bill.

On site at the municipal airport, Mayor Schneider expressed her annoyance with the delays, which have cost the city thousands in funding and have pushed back other renovation plans.

Santa Barbara Airport
Paul Wellman

“The last time we were here we were showcasing a beautiful new building, but now we are standing in front of a pile of dirt,” said Mayor Schneider. “It means we won’t be able to do other projects we have been meaning to do … It’s a no-brainer if we authorize this bill. It doesn’t make any sense to me why it’s being delayed.”

The two-week stalemate halted hundreds of airport construction projects nationwide, costing the federal government $300 million in lost airline tickets and idling 4,500 workers in California alone. According to Schneider, the renovation project had brought over 300 high-paying, private jobs to the city. With Thursday’s decision, those positions may no longer be “held hostage.”

“I find it astonishing that in the last several weeks in Washington, D.C., with all this debate that is going on about the need to get jobs to get the economy moving, that just because of political reasons we are going to lose that ability just by delaying it [the FAA resolution] while thousands of jobs are not being served,” she said.

“Make no mistake, this is not a game,” said Capps. “Especially for workers who will be without a paycheck or the small businesses whose contracts hang in the balance. Every day that goes by we are failing to create jobs and to grow our economy.”


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