FAA funding debate may not fly with public

People over 30 remember that the ABC late night news show Nightline started under a different title — America Held Hostage — before morphing into its current incarnation.  Each night during the Iran hostage crisis, which stretched from November 1979 to January 1981, the opening of the show with ominous trumpet blaring would give the number of days Americans had been held in Tehran before Ted Koppel gave a sober 15-minute update of the day’s news regarding the situation.

It’s a good bet many of us had that intro playing in our heads during the recent debt ceiling debate in Washington, and it now continues with the Federal Aviation Administration and its workers becoming the latest casualty in a political battle of wills while Congress has recessed for a month-long vacation, which not everyone agrees is well-deserved.

The FAA had to furlough 4,000 workers, and another estimated 50,000 to 70,000 airport service employees and construction workers have been idled as Congress did not fund the agency after granting pro forma temporary budgets 20 times previously over the past four years. That is where the agreement of what’s happening ends.

Republicans maintained their slashing mantra, saying they passed a bill in the House that cut unneeded and costly services to rural regional airports but the Senate refused to pass it. But Democrats charge the bill is nothing more than political payback for the FAA’s rule change last year that made it easier for airline workers to unionize. Democratic leaders claim the 16 airports targeted for reductions are in the districts of many prominent party leaders, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

The lack of congressional action means the FAA’s authority to collect a tax on tickets expired, costing the government some $30 million a day. That will total $1.2 billion by the time lawmakers come back rested in September if no action is taken beforehand.

The inaction also means the halt to a number of security and airport improvement projects during the busiest construction time of the year, an estimated $11 billion around the country. In Massachusetts, 50 FAA workers have been furloughed and some $17 million in projects put on hold.

“Everybody is completed frustrated,” David Dineen, executive director of the 175-member Massachusetts Airport Managers Association, told the State House News Service.

Air traffic controllers are not among those out of work because they are paid through a separate fund but airport inspectors are being asked to work for free and use their personal credit cards to pay for their flying expenses. But there is no guarantee that when Congress returns, they’ll approve back pay or reimbursement.

“The reason they are out on the job is because of the risk to operational safety or life and property,” Randy Babbitt, the FAA administrator, said. “We are depending and living on their professionalism at this point.”

Administration officials say Congress does not have to return to formal session; it simply has to vote the bills through by unanimous consent during one of the times it procedurally reconvenes during the recess. And they put the pressure on lawmakers through a populist message urging member of Congress to forgo their usual travel plans.

“Members of Congress should not get on a plane to fly home for vacation without passing an FAA bill and putting thousands of people back to work,” Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman, said in a statement. “Congress needs to do its job for the good of these workers, for the good of our economy and for the good of America’s aviation system.”

                                                                                                                                                               –JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

MBTA boss Richard Davey will take the reins as secretary of transportation, as Jeff Mullan heads back to the private sector. Davey will become Gov. Deval Patrick’s fourth transportation secretary.

The prevailing view among Massachusetts voters is that corruption on Beacon Hill is isolated to a few isolated incidents, but 4 in 10 voters think the problem is widespread, according to poll data from the MassINC Polling Group. Jon Keller weighs in with his view of what the numbers mean.

Advocates file a total of 31 ballot questions, including measures to legalize casino gambling and medical marijuana, expand the bottle deposit law, downplay seniority in teacher hiring, and eliminate the state’s health insurance mandate, the Worcester Telegram (via AP) reports. Another question would legalize assisted suicide,  and the fight over auto repair information could also go before voters. In the case of casino gambling, it is a Colorado casino developer who is behind the ballot question effort to sanction three casinos here, the Globe reports. The Berkshire Eagle says the silly season of ballot questions has begun.

The MetroWest Daily News says a proposal to ban sales of cigarettes by pharmacies goes too far.

State Sen. Mark Montigny says MBTA contracts that allow arbitrators to reinstate fired employees don’t “pass the common-sense test.”

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Scituate and Marshfield officials want to get those defective concrete railroad ties the MBTA is tearing up along the Old Colony Commuter Rail line to shore up their crumbling sea walls.

The Standard Times is reporting as many as four New Bedford police officers are facing disciplinary actions ranging from suspension to termination in connection with the death of a man in custody last year but city and police officials have refused numerous public records requests from the paper regarding the incident and follow-up investigation.

The Westport Planning Board approved plans to build a strip club on Route 6 but members focused mainly on a sidewalk in front of it that was also approved as part of the mitigation.

The Bridgewater Town Council voted to reprimand Town Manager Troy Clarkson in an ongoing power struggle after a judge ruled the council did not have the authority to pass an ordinance restricting Clarkson’s appointment powers.

FBI agents raid the home of a Lawrence police officer, but it’s unclear whether the action is related to the investigation of Mayor William Lantigua, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

A soon-to-be released report on Lynn says the city faces many challenges – including a median income $22,000 less than the statewide average and a loss of 2,712 jobs over the last eight years – and calls on residents to band together in community organizations to tackle them, the Item reports.

On NECN’s Broadside, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone shares his frustration with the Patrick administration’s broken promises on extending the T’s Green Line to his community.

WBUR’s On Point examines the Central Falls, Rhode Island, bankruptcy filing.

Boston city councilor John Connolly out-raises the field.

More vitriol between Boston Mayor Tom Menino and Wal-Mart.

Norton and Mansfield consider a joint police dispatch operation.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

National Review’s Charlie Cooke says the bloody debt debate was good for democracy and intended by the founding fathers. Barbara Anderson on the debt limit deal: You can’t always get what you want. Meanwhile, Fresh Air’s Terry Gross talks with journalist Robert Draper about the rising influence of the Tea Party in Washington. NECN’s Alison King talks to several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation.

Meanwhile, The Christian Science Monitor looks at the growing speculation on the left that the criticism of President Obama is racially motivated.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner might stick around after all. (To almost no one’s relief.)

ELECTION 2012
Sarah Palin’s on again, off again way of inserting herself into the presidential campaign isn’t helping her national profile…if she intends to run.

Jon Hunstman’s campaign operatives are feuding.

The Rick Perry un-campaign gets Biblical.

George W. Bush’s big fundraisers continue to sit on the sidelines.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Globe takes stock of the consumer grumbling — and hoarding — taking place ahead of the federal phaseout of some incandescent light bulbs begins.

Cryin’ in their beer: New state regulations threaten to hurt — or even put out of business — some small craft brewers, the Globe reports. The MetroWest Daily News report is here, and the Herald’s is here.

The Federal Reserve continues to float trial balloons around a third round of fiscal stimulus.

EDUCATION

The Salem News, in an editorial, urges the Ipswich School Committee to accept a one-year donation to pay for a library aide at an elementary school.

The Bay State Banner reports on the Bill Gates-Henry Louis Gates conversation at the National Urban League conference last week.

HEALTH CARE

An amendment to the federal health care law sponsored by Sen. John Kerry gives a $275 million windfall to Massachusetts hospitals, angering health executives in other states, WBUR (via AP) reports.

Now that he doesn’t have to worry about retribution from someone who buys ink by the barrel, Paul Levy hammers the methodology used by US News & World Report to rank the nation’s hospitals.

Latinos in Massachusetts have made big gains in health care coverage, but coverage among those with limited English skills still lags badly, according to a new report.

TRANSPORTATION

Keller@Large says the change of seasons has no effect on the change of problems with the various modes of transportation in the state, from drivers to commuter rail.

The Somerville Journal digs deeper into the latest Green Line extension delay.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto and the city’s board of health go mano-a-mano over “surgical” spraying for mosquitoes. Meanwhile, office of Newton Mayor Setti Warren just provides tips on avoiding the bugs.

The New York Times says that, counter to the gas industries claims, there is at least one documented incident of natural gas fracking poisoning drinking water.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Fellow passengers on a MBTA bus in Roxbury detained the mother of a 1-year-old after witnessing her strike the child until police arrived and arrested her.

SCIENCE

The Big Splat: Scientists have come up with a theory that the Earth once had two moons, with the smaller one crashing into its big brother 75 million years ago and giving the survivor a dent.

ARTS

The Bay State Banner interviews Boston poet laureate Sam Cornish.

MEDIA

California Watch, an arm of the Center for Investigative Reporting, opens a bureau in the newsroom of the Orange County Register, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports.

WILL TO SURVIVE

After falling off a cliff, a former Holliston resident survives three days in the Oregon wilderness by eating berries and bugs.