Taxpayers Pay for Playground At Burley Airport

July 16--Let's face it, the Magic Valley doesn't need two "regional" airports. Sorry Burley, but it's time to stop squandering federal, state and local tax dollars and accept reality.

Burley's J.R. "Jack" Simplot Airport is a boondoggle in every sense of the word. Millions have been squandered on studies that go nowhere. Finicky private pilots gripe about any new idea for a new site. And local politicians have waffled for 20 years.

The government shouldn't be subsidizing the playgrounds of a few well-off hobbyists who get their kicks behind a yoke. Pilots will refute this claim. But poor people aren't cruising around in pricey aircraft that burn a minimum of 13 gallons of gas -- at about $5 a gallon -- every hour. Even a 60-year-old, low-end Cessna will cost you about $30,000. It's a pricey hobby. Pilots regularly fly to other nearby airports to eat in the cafe before heading home. It's called the $100 hamburger for a reason.

The reality is Magic Valley Regional Airport in Twin Falls more than serves the needs of a region of only about 180,000. It offers twice daily commercial flights to Salt Lake City and plenty of runway for the air limousines of the jet set.

Airport proponents will say Simplot field is important for the Mini-Cassia economy. The modern executive from companies such as Frulact require a local jet-worthy strip for when they visit, proponents claim without evidence. But the truth is that corporate executives are bringing industry to Idaho because of its cheap workforce, business-friendly government and dearth of regulation. The half-hour drive from Magic Valley Regional is the last thing on their minds.

Airport proponents will say the federal money isn't coming directly from the taxpayer. That's a smoke screen. Most of the Federal Aviation Administration's grant programs are funded by taxes on aviation fuel and commercial flight fees. The taxpayers are paying the bill, just through ticketing and baggage fees instead of income taxes.

If Mini-Cassia's pilots want to invest in a small, private grass field, that's their prerogative. But dumping cash and energy into the space-handicapped Simplot field or building a fancy new facility would cost the masses for the benefit of the few.

The Twin Falls City Council on Monday approved funding for a terminal refurbishment at Magic Valley Regional. It's an airport with room to grow and the local tax base to support a long-term operation.

The number of licensed pilots in the U.S. continues to plunge. Millions took to the air after World War II. That number is now below 600,000 -- the fewest since the late 1930s, reports the FAA. Flying is just too expensive for the average American.

Burley's airport infatuation serves only a moneyed minority and diverts attention and funding from more important community-wide problems.

Just let it go.

Copyright 2014 - The Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho