Saturday, June 13, 2009

Stimulus Obscenity No. 2: John Murtha Airport

Pennsylvania's John Murtha airport is perhaps the worthiest recipient of the "stimulus obscenity" designation. This is Number 2, not because another wasteful use of stimulus funds is even more wasteful than this one, but because I just started the list, and this is the second entry. Located two hours from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the multi-million dollar airport, funded by the taxpayer, averages twenty passengers a day.

John Murtha Airport

After watching the video below, I did some quick calculations. Congress has just alotted another $800,00.00 to pave an "alternate" runway for an airport that has three flights a day out and three flights a day in. An average of twenty people fly out daily. If twenty people a day fly out, then let's be generous and estimate that twenty people also fly in daily. T

hree airplanes flying out and three airplanes flying in, each with about 33 seats. That's 198 seats in the air with a total of 40 people, on average flying. Can that be right? This started out to be about the video below. The waste it reveals is astonishing. I've transcribed it, because I like to have this stuff at my fingertips.

If you're interested, I've added some John Murtha background before the video, or you can skip right to the transcription or video to see this piece of work in Johnstown-Cambria County, Pennsylvania

 There's more to the story than what we see and hear in the video. Here are some points we all need to know about:

1) The airport has received $200 million in federal funds over the last decade. An additional $800 million was awared this year from the Economic Stimulus Bill.

2) The airport was newly crowned with the name John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport. For the generosity of the taxpayer, John Murtha's portrait hangs in the lobby. I'm guessing that portrait was a business expense.

3) Murtha directed $192 million from the 2008 budget to his district and holds the record for gaining the most funds for his district - more than any other Congressman.

4) "As a part of an investigation of a lobbying firm led by one of Murtha's closest friends," Murtha is under investigation for "steering millions in earmarks to defense contractors who give to his campaign and hire his allies as lobbyists.

5) While the money rolls in, the passenger count has fallen by more than half in the past 10 years.

6) Murtha said the stimulus funding would bring jobs to his congressional district. So, nevermind that the airport is void of a sustaining business, someone gets paid just to show up.

7) The taxpayer subsidies are about $1.4 million annually or $147 per passenger in 2008. This is DOUBLE the national average for federal programs.

8) Along with the economic stimulus funds, another unnamed program, but believed to be an FAA program, provided $7.3 million in 2004. Eventually, the mandated number of passengers fell below requirements. Murtha stepped into regain the funds. It worked, although an FAA spokesman said the "runway rehabilitation project met the stimulus package's criteria by being shovel-ready and on a state-endorsed priority list."

Again, nevermind that the airport has no sustaining business, and the $18 million dollar runway, designed to handle any airplane in North America, is only utilized by United Express/Colgan Air (no military jets or larger commercial planes).

According to United's website, the United Express flights for June from Johnstown, PA to Washington Dulles are on a Saab 340 which appears to hold about 33 passengers. The flight takes 58 minutes. A round-trip ticket is $512 per person at the moment.

9) There are three flights arriving and three flights departing each week day. It appears that weekend flights are one-way-only to Washington, D.C.; one on Saturday and two on Sunday.

10) In 2007, the airport manager was fired. The same day MTT Aviation Services was hired. MTT Aviation is a subsidiary of Mountaintop Technologies:
...a defense contractor that had received at least $23 million in earmarks from Murtha since 2001 and is run by his close friend.
MTT hired a lobbying firm that had one of Murtha's former staffers as a lead lobbyist and had once employed Murtha's brother.
11) In May 2009, The Hill reported that GOP members in the house entered an amendment to block funds for Murtha's airport. The amendment to stop more funding for the "Airport for No One" failed. Eleven Democrats voted for the amendment along with Republicans.

12) The "End of the Monument to Me" Legislation approved (emphasis Maggie's Notebook):
Only two lawmakers, Democratic Reps. Jim Moran (Va.) and Nick Rahall (W.Va.), voted against a separate amendment prohibiting any funds from being used to name a building, project or program for a currently serving member of Congress. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) was approved. McCaul said Murtha’s airport, as well as other earmark projects named after sitting members, such as the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service as the City College of New York, “fuel the beliefs that members of Congress are arrogant and out of touch with their constituents.” Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) declared the legislation “the end of the ‘monuments to me,’” a reference to entities named after members who earmark funds for the projects. McCaul said he planned to offer the same amendment to all upcoming appropriations bills. That language would prevent lawmakers from directing funds to any already-existing entities named after sitting members of Congress, even if an outside group named it after the lawmaker.
13) Murtech in Glen Burnie, MD is owned by John Murtha's nephew, Robert C. Murtha. Murtech received $1.4 million in Pentagon contracts, "all of it without competititon." Robert's father, and John Murtha's brother, Kit Murtha, is a lobbyist with connections to his brother's House Appropriation's Committee assignment. There may be no "there" here, but then again...who would know, or who would tell? Video Transcripton begins here: ABC News' Charlie Gibson and reporter on the scene, Jonathan Karl, give us a look inside this wasteful and dishonest use of taxpayer's money. I'm ashamed for the people interviewed who think the airport is due them.
[Charlie Gibson] Tonight we have a look inside an airport that has been on the receiving end of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, including economic stimulus funds. And judging by the infusions of cash and state of the art equipment, you'd think this airport was doing a booming business. You would be wrong. As Jonathan Karl reports it is an enormous expenditure of your money.
[Jonathan Karl] Welcome to the The John Murtha Johnstown County-Cambria Airport, with a $7 million air traffic control tower, a $14 million hanger and an $18 million runway, big enough to land any airplane in North America. For most of the day, the only thing this airport doesn't have is airplanes. This is the John Murtha airport at 10:30 a.m. in the morning. There is nobody here. It pretty much looks like an airport ghost town. The airport isn't always deserted. There are three flights a day, all of them to Washington, D.C. The federal government subsidizes every flight into this airport to the tune of about $100.00 per passenger. In other words, the taxpayer spends about as much money for my ticket on this flight as I did. Subsidized fares and plenty of empty seats. We have rented a car but the Hertz counter is as deserted as the rest of the airport. So we placed a call and we are told that the Hertz representative will be driving in from downtown Johnstown to give us the key for the car which we believe is parked out front. Its a monument to the power of Congressman John Murtha who has steered some $150 million in taxpayer dollars to this airport over the last decade.
[Jonathan Karl speaking to unknown man] As you look around the airport whether it be the reinforced runway, the radar facility, the new terminal, how much of this is thanks to John Murtha?
[unidentified man] All of it.
[Karl] Congressman Murtha refused to talk to us, but the people who use it are grateful to have it.
[Karl speaking to another unidentified man] So you like having this airport here?
[unidentified man] Of course.
[Karl] Court of John Murtha.? [unidentified man] Of course. John Murtha is a good man. [unidentified family] It's a breeze to get through. Security? No prob. It's right in your back yard.
[Karl] But last year an average of just 20 people a day flew out of the John Murtha airport.
[Karl] What do people around here do between flights? [unidentified man] Nothing.
[Karl] Even so the airport was just awarded another $800,000 in federal stimulus money to repave an alternate runway, and it's your money! Transcription End.

John Murtha Airport Video
More background on John Murtha:
Convicted drug dealers linked to Rep. John Murtha-backed firm Rep. Murtha Dogged by Questions About Earmark Use

Murtha slimes our troops: "...it looks like it's the policy of our troops to do something like this." Read Stimulus Obscenity No. 2: Fish Food

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