ConnectOregon: The Democratic Party Embraces Trickle Down Reaganomics
The following testimony was submitted at a ConnectOregon V hearing held in Salem on July 17, 2014. Concerned residents were given 3 minutes each to comment on 104 separate projects worth a combined total of over $124 million. Three minutes, which translates into approximately one second per project, doesn't begin to provide enough time to adequately address even one 50 to 80 page application. In the interest of government transparency and responsible stewardship, each of these applications deserved individual hearings to insure that the public has a voice in the process. The decision on which specific projects will receive public funding is expected to be announced by the Governor-appointed Oregon Transportation Commission during their August 21-22 meeting in Ontario.
ConnectOregon was initially championed by then-Governor Ted Kulongoski who has since passed the baton to Governor Kitzhaber. According to the Oregon Department of Transportation website,
“In 2005, the Oregon Legislature created the Multimodal Transportation Fund to invest in air, marine, rail, and public transit infrastructure improvements. The Fund is part of what is known as the ConnectOregon program; providing grants and loans to non-highway transportation projects that promote economic development in Oregon. The legislature authorized issuance of $100 million in lottery-backed revenue bonds to fund the program in each of the 2005-07, 2007-09, and 2009-11 biennia. An additional $40 million was authorized in 2011 for the 2011-13 biennium.”
The aviation component of ConnectOregon is a testament to the degree to which Oregon's Democratic governors and the Oregon legislature have wholeheartedly embraced Ronald Reagan's trickle-down economic theory by forcing the public into subsidizing airport related boondoggles on the off chance that big spenders who can afford to own, purchase or charter multi-million dollar jets or private small private aircraft might invest in a meal or hotel reservation in the local community.
ConnectOregon V Testimony
Date: July 17, 2014
To: Oregon Transportation Commission
From: Miki Barnes, LCSW
Topic: Connect Oregon V
My purpose in submitting this testimony is to state my opposition to all further ConnectOregon funding for aviation projects due to the exorbitant cost, noise, pollution, safety risks and security threats posed by aviation activity. In addition, I am opposed to all rail subsidies on behalf of the oil and coal industry due to the very serious, negative risks of transporting these fuels.
Oregon is a state that claims to be perpetually broke when it comes to establishing rudimentary safeguards to protect the health and well-being of state residents. The Oregon legislature terminated funding for the ODEQ noise program in the early 1990s. Only 4 percent of the population is tested for lead. The Oregon Health Authority and the ODEQ claim to lack resources to perform unbiased health and environmental studies. Oregon's priorities have become so skewed that this state now has one airport for every 14 pilots but only one school for every 433 public school children.[i]
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. Indeed, Oregon is flush with cash when it comes to flinging millions of dollars at noisy, polluting airport projects which for the most part cater to those affluent enough to own airports, aviation businesses and/or expensive aircraft.
Airports, ConnectOregon, and Lead Emissions
In most Oregon counties, airports are the largest facility sources of lead due to the ongoing use of leaded fuel in piston engine aircraft. The EPA has stated that upwards of 60 percent of airborne lead in the U.S. is generated by piston engine aircraft. The majority of airports that have already received and continue to seek Connect Oregon funding generate lead emissions, yet despite requests from concerned residents, ODEQ has consistently refused to engage in actual monitoring at Oregon airports. Their time worn excuse is that they don't have the money to invest in projects of this nature.
Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin and a suspected carcinogen. It is particularly damaging to children and is linked with lowering IQs, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism, learning deficits, and behavior problems. In adults it is associated with miscarriages, cardiovascular disease, kidney ailments, dementia and increased violence. The pernicious effects of this toxin are found even at very low doses and at exposure levels that were once considered safe. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has stated that there is no safe level of lead in a child's blood and has also concluded that , “...because no level of lead in a child's blood can be specified as safe, primary prevention must serve as the foundation of the effort [to eliminate childhood lead poisoning].”[ii] As noted by Alex Knapp, “Decades of research has shown that lead poisoning causes significant and probably irreversible damage to the brain. Not only does lead degrade cognitive abilities and lower intelligence, it also degrades a person's ability to make decisions by damaging areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility.”[iii]
According to the EPA, the Hillsboro Airport, with an estimated emission rate of 0.68 tons of lead per year in 2008, ranked 21st in the nation among nearly 20,000 U.S. airports. HIO is the largest facility source of lead in the state of Oregon. This airport received a ConnectOregon III disbursement even though the third runway/taxiway D expansion proposal was and continues to be under review in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A major issue raised in the appeal is the impact on the public of lead emissions released by this facility. The Port and the FAA refused to voluntarily stay their plans to begin construction on the third runway/taxiway D proposal in part because of the possibility of losing their ConnectOregon payout which they claimed “must be retuned if not used by December 2015. Any delays in the project raise the distinct possibility that the Port will lose access to these funds.”[iv]
The HIO proposal approved by this commission primarily accommodates flight training and general aviation hobbyists. Approving this grant essentially forces the public to subsidize this infrastructure project on behalf of a private business that profits by recruiting student pilots from all over the world, then directing them to train over area homes and neighborhoods. As a result, state residents are witnessing the erosion and demise of their quality of life due to incessant noise, pollution and safety risks as well as a decline in property values.
It is also worth noting that according to the 2011 EPA National Emissions Inventory, McMinnville Airport, which has applied for a ConnectOregon V grant, is the ninth largest facility source of lead in the state and the second largest facility source of lead in Yamhill County, surpassed only by Cascade Steel. Portland International Airport (PDX), which has received nearly $14 Million in previous ConnectOregon grants, is now applying for another $3.4 Million disbursement. PDX is the third largest facility source of lead in Multnomah County. Troutdale Airport is the largest facility source of this toxin in this jurisdiction. Bend Municipal Airport, which is also on the list for ConnectOregon V funding, ranks fourth in the state in lead emissions and is the number one facility source of lead in Deschutes County. Funding a helicopter flight training business at this facility will only to serve to increase emission levels. Roberts Field in Redmond, which also submitted a ConnectOregon V application, is the number 2 facility source of lead in Deschutes County.
McMinnville Municipal Airport
One of the applications recommended for approval is the McMinnville Municipal Airport runway rehabilitation project dated November 20, 2013. Per the ConnectOregon V Review, the project will repave and strengthen the runway to accommodate aircraft weighing up to 75,000 lbs. The runway is expected to appeal to high end business travelers as well as tourists visiting wine country and the Evergreen Aviation Museum. The proposal, however, fails to explain why the affluent life style of individuals who will utilize the runway should be subsidized with public money.
Though the runway rehabilitation project was not expected to generate new long term jobs, the application noted that “the McMinnville Municipal Airport is associated with over 2,500 jobs regionally, with wages totaling over $109-million (2012 statistics).”
This assertion is out of date and in need of further scrutiny, as less than two months after the application was submitted, one of the airport neighbors, Evergreen International Aviation, declared bankruptcy.[v] An Oregonian article noted that Evergreen, which was “listed by city officials as having 463 workers in McMinnville, has been one of the community's largest employers. But layoffs, furloughs and the helicopter division sale may already have drastically reduced the workforce.”[vi] Multiple lawsuits were subsequently lodged against Evergreen by workers who said they weren't fully compensated[vii] as well as by companies around the world.[viii] In any case, a bankruptcy of this magnitude points to the need for a thorough investigation before investing additional money into the Yamhill County aviation industry.
ConnectOregon Fostering Chronic Reliance on Public Money
A review of the record reveals substantive evidence that ConnectOregon is fostering a dependency and unhealthy reliance on public handouts on behalf of aviation business interests. A number of the airports on the application list have received previous ConnectOregon grants yet routinely come back for more.
Portland International Airport (PDX) is a prime example. The annual operational count at PDX has dropped to 1984 levels. There are now 100,000 fewer flights than there were in 1998. Yet despite this dramatic decline, PDX which has received nearly $14 Million in previous ConnectOregon grants is now applying for another $3.4 Million disbursement.
Rogue Valley International, which received ConnectOregon I, II, and IV grants, now wants snow removal equipment via ConnectOregon V. Operations at this facility have declined by more than 50% over the past 20 years. Half of the operations are general aviation as opposed to commercial passenger flights, yet the state and federal government continue to dole out steady cash infusions.
Madras Airport is also on the list. This airport already received two ConnectOregon grants but now wants a third in large part to accommodate Aero Air, a company that has long received the benefits of public funding at the Hillsboro Airport.
The Bend Municipal Airport is another case in point. This facility, which received two previous ConnectOregon grants, is now vying for yet another, this time to accommodate a private helicopter flight training company that recruits student pilots from other countries. Even without the expansion, at 0.28 tons per year, this airport is the largest facility source of lead in Deschutes County.
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. In light of these concerns, pending a full scale open, transparent, and comprehensive investigation, a moratorium should immediately be placed on all state and federal funding for Oregon airports. Strictly enforced requirements should be instituted to insure that public money does not subsidize private residential airparks, flight training schools, private aviation businesses and runway extensions on behalf of wealthy private jet owners. Monies currently earmarked for airports should be redirected to environmentally sustainable transportation alternatives such as high speed trains. The millions saved could also be dispersed to education, the social services, health care, environmental safeguards, and other public sector programs that benefit the majority rather than an affluent few.
[i] 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.
[ii] Preventing Lead Poisoning in Young Children. A Statement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (August 2005). pg. 1. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/publications/prevleadpoisoning.pdf.
[iii] Knapp, Alex. How Lead Caused America's Violent Crime Epidemic. Forbes. (1/3/13). Available on-line at http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2013/01/03/how-lead-caused-americas-violent-crime-epidemic.
[iv] Response for Request for Stay of Agency Order: Barnes v. FAA, 9th Cir. No. 14-71180. (6/30/14).
[v] Milford, Phil. Evergreen Air Files Bankruptcy After Push for Payment. Bloomburg News. (1/1/14). Available online at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-01/evergreen-air-files-bankruptcy-after-push-for-payment.html.
[vi] Reid, Richard. Lawsuits Fly as Evergreen International Airlines Fights for Survival. Oregonian. (11/22/13). Available online at http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2013/11/lawsuits_fly_as_evergreen_inte.html.
[vii] Reid, Richard. Pilots Seek Answers Concerning Fate of McMinnville Based Evergreen International Airlines. Oregonian. (12/6/13). Available online at http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2013/12/pilots_fishing_for_answers_as.html.
[viii] Reid, Richard. Lawsuits Fly as Evergreen International Airlines Fights for Survival. Oregonian. (11/22/13). Available online at http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2013/11/lawsuits_fly_as_evergreen_inte.html.