California could recoup 'hundreds of millions' for airports

November 14, 2013

AOPA and two organizations representing California’s general aviation and commercial-service airports are urging Gov. Edmund G. Brown to approve a budget transfer that could bring in millions of dollars in federal Airport Improvement Program matching grants.

Transferring state transportation dollars into an account to fund airport improvement program grants could leverage "hundreds of millions in federal funds for job-creating aviation infrastructure projects," because federal grants cover 90 percent of project costs, said an Oct. 31 letter to Brown signed by John Pfeifer, AOPA Western Pacific regional manager; Rod Dinger, president of the California Airports Council; and Ronald K. Elliott, president of the Association of California Airports.

With state and local matches each covering 5 percent of costs and federal grants covering the rest, reinvigorating the state grant matching program would be "one of the most effective and efficient" expenditures of state funds, they said.

Replenishing funding for the state’s matching grant program would get it back on its feet from a virtual suspension that was in place through much of fiscal 2012-2013, when funds were for projects were scarce. The grant program’s underfunding resulted from the previous gubernatorial administration’s transfer of $4 million away from the program into the general fund to help offset a "historic multi-billion dollar budget deficit" under a 2010 law, they wrote.

That transfer, and previous instances of shuffling funds away from aviation accounts to meet budget shortfalls, were more harmful than helpful, because for every $4 million removed from the aviation program, the transfers—possibly of questionable legality—lost California a chance to leverage $80 million in FAA grants, "at a time when the state badly needed new economic investment," they wrote.

AOPA has long been engaged in California aviation-system funding issues, and was pleased to join in making the transfer request in cooperation with two organizations that represent "a diverse range of aviation professionals that are unified in the goal of strengthening the state’s aviation resources," Pfeifer said.

The Association of California Airports’ membership represents publicly and privately-owned airports, educating and advocating for aviation in the state. The California Airports Council represents the interests of the state’s 31 commercial service airports.