The OneJet travesty

What a mess. And, oh, how sadly rich:

The Allegheny County Airport Authority, grand giver of millions of dollars in corporate wealthfare to just about anything that claims to be an airline, is licking a very big wound these days.

Friday last in Common Pleas Court, the authority was forced to bring suit against one of the highly touted beneficiaries of its attempts at command economics with the public purse.

You might recall that it was in June 2016 that the authority gave OneJet a cool million dollars in state gambling tax proceeds to launch 10 routes by the end of 2017. As the Tribune-Review reminds, part of the deal was that OneJet was to fly each of the routes five days a week for at least five years.

But the airline fell a tad short of the agreement. While it did briefly have eight destinations and talked of adding service to three more locales, it now only flies to two destinations – Indianapolis and Hartford.

The Airport Authority’s lawsuit was filed after OneJet refused to return $736,000 of the $1 million subsidy. And the lawsuit also says the carrier has not paid a $54,000 security deposit and hasn’t been timely in paying fees and lease payments.

Certainly doesn’t sound as if OneJet was very appreciative of the public’s largess. It appears to claim that part of its non-performance is its conversion to larger jets with more seating capacity.

All that said, perhaps the richest part of this failed exercise is this paragraph from the Airport Authority’s complaint:

“As a result of OneJet’s breach, (the authority) has suffered and will suffer monetary damages … lost customers, lost revenue, lost profits and/or lost customer and industry goodwill, without limitation.”

The airline has been “unjustly enriched” at the authority’s expense, the lawsuit says.

Gee, no mention of taxpayers being unjustly fleeced and despoiled of a portion of their wealth, eh?

Of course, that $1 million is not the only money OneJet received from the public tax kitty. There are loans valued at $1.5 million from the county and a $500,000 state loan.

Nobody seems to be talking about the status of those other corporate wealthfare line items.

And as the Trib also reminds, “Robert Lewis, an Airport Authority board member, was also a member of OneJet’s board of directors as of December.” He is a non-voting member.

But, and as the Post-Gazette points out, Lewis now finds himself involved with one entity suing another entity in which he’s also involved.

No conflict of interest there, right? In fact, multiply the conflict times two.

A primary issue for the Airport Authority – and based on a letter to OneJet, the P-G reports – appears to be the authority’s serious reservations about the airline’s management.

So, here’s the $1 million-plus question: Were their no concerns about management all the way back in 2016?

An aviation consultant flippantly told the newspaper that such disputes are the reason “God gave us the court system.”

Really? Or is it that such disputes are the product of poor decision-making by public officials throwing public money at private concerns having no business receiving it and those officials never being held accountable for it?

Yet, the Allegheny County Airport Authority’s Great Subsidy Machine keeps shoveling money at airlines. Never mind that it is abundantly clear that such subsidies are bad economics. Such a public policy travesty should not be abided.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

 

Notes on the (troubling) state of things

The City of Pittsburgh real-estate manager sold himself an under-priced tax-delinquent home — effectively becoming the seller and the buyer, the Post-Gazette reports.

At least one other prospective bidder, an Upper St. Clair duo, appears to have been shut out of the process. And that short-circuited a required public auction, the newspaper says.

The sales price was $2,500 for the Beechview house and property; the shut-out duo says it was prepared to pay up to $40,000.

It smacks of a clear conflict of interest, despite the fact that an internal city investigation cleared the city official. The city says it might take another look-see.

Sound public policy demands fairness and transparency. If any public processes are rigged, or even appear to be rigged, the public can have no trust in the processes.

Here’s to a planned city controller audit disinfecting this process.

Speaking of public policy and public trust, the Duquesne City School District, operating in state receivership, paid out $300,000 last year to settle negligence claims involving a teacher aide’s sexual abuse of a 9-year-old girl.

The P-G reports the school board did not have to authorize settlement. Neither is the settlement noted in any of the state receiver’s business meeting minutes.

The newspaper reports that district Solicitor William Andrews said a resolution (to approve the settlement) does not appear in the minutes because the district’s insurer paid its share of the settlement, not the district itself.

Conveniently, missing from the solicitor’s rationale is one pertinent fact – this is a public school district expending public resources. After all, taxpayers footed the bill for the insurance policy, did they not?

State receivership should absolve neither the state nor the district from being transparent.

Here we go again? The Irish Times first reported that Ireland’s Aer Lingus airline is considering Pittsburgh for a nonstop flight to Dublin.

Which, given the proclivity of corporate wealthfare being handed out by the Allegheny County Airport Authority, forces this question:

How much public money will be thrown at the Irish carrier to “win” the route and extend the authority’s string of paid “progress”?

By the way, Aer Lingus is owned by the same company that owns British Airways. Oh, and the former posted an operating profit of just more than $120 million (104 million euros) for the six months ended June 30, nearly double the same period last year.

By all means, let’s open the public purse, right?

In other airline news, American Airlines says that, come Dec. 18, it will end its daily nonstop flights between Pittsburgh and Boston. JetBlue and Delta will continue to offer their nonstop daily services.

American says poor demand no longer justifies its Pittsburgh-Boston flights. What, the Airport Authority didn’t offer to subsidize the route?

For anyone who thought the perversion of taxpayer-funded stadiums for the barons of sport had abated, witness what’s going on in Seattle and Safeco Field, home to baseball’s Mariners.

Government there is mulling whether to pour hundreds of millions of dollars for upgrades to the 19-year-old facility. Among the publicly financed amenities being sought – a four-slice toaster for the American League franchise clubhouse priced at $501.

Then there’s $50,000 for new furniture for each of the ballpark’s 60 luxury suites.

And let’s not forget adding on to a parking garage with a per space cost of up to $100,000.

As Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat (who detailed the aforementioned numbers in an Aug. 3 column) put it:

“Look, the public owns this stadium. So like it or not, we have an interest in helping fix it up. It’s one reason that subsidizing sports billionaires is such an unending sucker’s bet. Once they lure you, you’re on the hook for good.”

By the way, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and Heinz Field, built with hundreds of millions of snookered taxpayer dollars, are 17 years old.

Stay tuned.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

Weekend essay: Seasons change …

The sun sets ever earlier these days; at this point in August, it’s about 8:24 p.m. The day that once lingered well past 9 p.m. cannot stay out to play as long as it did a mere month ago.

That sunrise whose first hints not long ago cued the chorus of songbirds shortly after 5 a.m.? It has taken to sleeping in as the summer closes in on being two-thirds spent.

Mr. Sun has become Mr. Weary. Ah, seasons change. But those aren’t the only changes in the air.

“Car!” I heard the rear “spotter” of a high school cross-country team recently as the harriers were getting in some post-dinner road work. “Hill miles” logged now will pay wonderful dividends come fall.

Then, from two different directions, the drum cadences of a pair of high school marching bands settling into camp echoed off the hills and through the dales. They might sound discordant now but they will be driving those marchers’ precision in short order.

On the air – as in on the radio and television – the coming Christmas, still more than four months off, has been previewed far too early for most.

The Hallmark Channel concluded a run of holiday flicks at the end of July. It was a promotion to remind viewers that, this year, it will begin its real Christmas programming a few days before Halloween.

And on the radio, one oldies station took to playing a few Christmas tunes each hour recently. It appeared to coincide with its parent corporation’s announcement of its coming all-things-holidays cell phone app.

(Yeah, I gave it a spin for the snirts-and-giggles quotient, pretending I was a kid again with a transistor radio to my ear.)

While the “ding-dong-dings” of the chorus in Burl Ives’ “Holly Jolly Christmas” indeed are catchy and Christmastide truly can be, as Andy Williams professes, “the most wonderful time of the year,” even this lover of all things Yule-ish was struck by the seasonal incongruity.

The holidays will come soon enough. And there’s more than enough to do in the meantime.

Inside, there’s one fireplace to build and there’s another to have its chimney swept.

Outside, there are plenty of driveway cracks to seal, a few deck floorboards to replace and a tractor-mounted snowplow to design and build.

In the gardens, there are cold frames to site and insulate and there are hoop houses to ready knowing it’s always easier to cheat the first frost of the fall with preparation.

But no matter the chores, rest assured plenty of time will be carved out to take to the glider of one front porch and to the rocking chairs of another in order to bade the long, hot and humid summer farewell, to greet autumn’s subtly brisk charms and, when the holiday season really arrives, to smile broadly upon hearing Burl and Andy in the proper seasonal context.

After all, their crooning will signal that even though winter is nigh, spring cannot be far behind.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).  

 

 

A ‘load of’ British Airways ‘gibberish’

It once was written that public policy is a study in imperfection. That it involves imperfect people with imperfect information facing deeply imperfect solutions. Thus, it’s not surprising that they get imperfect results.

But when public policy is built around demonstrably flawed data, it’s the public that always pays the price for such mistakes – with their wallets and lost trust in policymakers.

It was on July 25 that Pittsburgh and Allegheny County officials announced with great fanfare that British Airways (BA) would, beginning in April 2019, resume direct flights between London and Pittsburgh for the first time in 20 years.

And like so many other recent announcements about new airlines and new flights out of Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT), the British Airways flights will be publicly subsidized. The airline will be given $3 million over two years.

Part of the rah-rah-sis-boom-bah-ing over the British Airways deal was a claim by Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald that the flights would result in a local annual economic impact of $57 million. The media took the assertion at face value.

The county Airport Authority was asked to document the claim. It hemmed and hawed for nearly 10 days. Finally, this past Monday, it produced a two-page “memo,” undated, from a Boston company, EDR Group. And the assessment from Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, was as swift as it was succinct:

“What a load of gibberish,” the Ph.D. economist concluded. “Virtually all the estimated impacts are based on questionable assumptions about passengers arriving at PIT.”

Here’s a small (but detailed) taste of the exposed gibberish (to be more fully explored in a forthcoming Policy Brief):

It is “assumed 40,562 arriving and departing passengers annually on 234 roundtrips (81 percent occupancy).  Of those, 29 percent of passengers (11,763) are assumed to be from the United Kingdom or other Europeans whose destination is PIT and are not connecting to another city.

“Spending by those visitors in the Pittsburgh region apparently makes up the bulk of the economic impact of the carrier’s flights. There is no breakdown of dollar mounts for that spending or the outlays for cabin crews, ground crews or catering purchases.

“All told, the airline projects the 234 roundtrips will lead to 564 added jobs in the 10 county Southwestern Pennsylvania region with average worker income of $37,776 and a total labor income boost of $21,306,000. This will be accompanied by value-added increase of $33,879,000, according to the BA study.

“Most of the jobs will be at restaurants and hotels. However, 11,763 visitors to the region over 365 days is an average of only 33 per day.  Even if they stay seven days on average that is only 82,000 room nights. The city alone has around 2.6 million room nights available per year and the rest of the region likely has at least half that many.

“Thus, UK visitor stays would make up only 2 percent or so of the region’s available room nights. It is improbable that 2 percent would create a commensurate number of new hospitality jobs. Indeed, stats from Pennsylvania tourism officials show that for Allegheny County in 2016, on average, $143, 297 was spent by tourists/travelers for each job in the tourism-related industries. If that figure is still anywhere close to the present ratio, the 11,763 visitors would have to spend over $80 million or $7,000 each to produce 564 new jobs.

“What’s more, any added jobs would likely be low-paid hotel room attendants and restaurant wait staff for which pay levels are about $23,000, a far cry from the $37,776 pay level used in the BA study.  The BA figure would include salaries of managers, sales reps, engineers, security, repairmen, etc.”

Furthermore, one part of the economic impact memo, instead of offering data that could be used in support of the public subsidy, actually serves as an argument against it, Haulk says.

Based on the memo’s assumptions, the outflow of dollars would be greater than the inflow. Spending by Pennsylvania travelers would be 2.5 times greater than foreign British Airways travelers to the Pittsburgh region.

“That is not a win for the region,” Haulk says. “Indeed, it is just the opposite.”

Yet the memo is used by the county and Airport Authority officials to defend “investing” millions of public dollars.

And as Haulk sees it, myriad flawed assumptions “make the airport’s $3 million subsidy a high-risk gamble that is unlikely to ever pay for itself unless British companies with significant investment and potential employment that otherwise would not have located facilities in the region decide to place operations in Southwestern Pennsylvania.”

“And in the meantime, if the most probable effects of the subsidy are to damage competitors” – many of whom also have been subsidized with public dollars – “while increasing the net outflow of resources from the region, it is hard to see any upside to the handing over tax dollars to the airline,” Haulk says.

Simply put, the economic impact “study” used to defend Allegheny County’s latest multimillion-dollar exercise in turning taxpayers into venture capitalists to deliver corporate wealthfare is indefensible.

No wonder it took the Airport Authority so long to cough it up.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

 

Hubris flies amok at Airport Authority

Despite repeated requests to do so, the Allegheny County Airport Authority has failed to document the claim that next year’s resumption of direct flights between Pittsburgh and London will have an economic impact of $57 million.

That claim was made by county Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald on July 25 with the announcement that British Airways would start up the flights in April 2019 after a two-decade absence. Pennsylvania taxpayers will subsidize those flights to the tune of $3 million over two years.

Fitzgerald’s office, contacted on July 27, could not provide documentation for the claim when queried in an e-mail. A spokeswoman “presumed” that the Airport Authority would have said documentation.

An authority spokesman, later that same day in another e-mail, said he would have to obtain the information from “our air service person” the week of July 29. No documentation to back the $57 million economic claim was forthcoming.

Following two follow-up e-mail requests – last Wednesday and Thursday – spokesman Bob Kerlik offered this late Friday morning (a week after the first request):

“I’ll circle back with our air service team today.”

No documentation had been provided as of Monday morning.

As noted previously, it’s more than odd that those who so readily touted such a large economic benefit cannot – or is it will not? — readily produce any documentation to support such a claim.

So, what might reasonable people conclude?

That no such documentation or any kind of independent study specific to this flight exists? If so, why would such a claim be made?

That, as was the case of with a claim of a $100 million-plus economic impact from British Airways flights to Nashville, the claim comes from the airline itself? If so, why would government officials rely on such a claim from a hardly independent source?

This is no trifling matter — government officials, imprudently expending millions of dollars in public money, making a claim of bountiful benefits but, when called into question, stalling to produce the supposed evidence.

But wait, there’s a brand-new example of this uneconomic flying hubris from the Airport Authority: It is spending more than half-a-million dollars — $560,000 – to subsidize two China Eastern Airlines charter flights with a tour operator.

The first was a Pittsburgh-to-Shanghai flight last Friday. The second will be a Shanghai-to-Pittsburgh flight this Saturday. As the Post-Gazette further reported last week, the flights were only 30 percent booked combined.

And there are two additional kickers.

First, that anemic booking total came after a year of trying to sell the flights.

Second, some of those coming to Pittsburgh on the Aug. 11 flight are reported to be college students heading back to school; they would have been traveling here anyway.

Simply put, it is not now, nor has it ever been, in the proper purview of government to become any kind of perverted alms-giver to those alms-unworthy enterprises whose default position is to off-load any amount of financial risk that, in pursuit of profit, they alone should bear.

That Allegheny County officials keep insisting otherwise reflects quite poorly on their judgment. A public so repeatedly despoiled should take great umbrage at so consistently being treated as rubes.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

Weekend essay: Home-field advantage

MARTINS FERRY, Ohio

The old stadium had changed as much as it had remained the same, if that makes any sense. The assessment came the last Saturday in July during a visit to the old high school football field and track for the first time in – GULP! –42 years.

Gone, for the most part, is the school house-red brick wall (a haven for the poison ivy in which we encouraged visiting thinclads to lounge) that once encircled the stadium, replaced by a tall chain-link fence. Gone, too, is the cinder track on which I ran the half-mile, mile and two-mile runs between 1972 and 1976.

A new track – all-weather, of course – now is adjacent to a new hilltop high school that opened a few years ago, far from these banks of the more-lazy-than-mighty Ohio River.

It was on that same old cinder track in 1941 that the late old man is reputed to have run the first 10-second-flat 100-yard dash in the Ohio Valley. And, oh, what an odd track it was.

Because of space constraints, the Purple Riders’ home cinders were not a regulation 440 yards; they were something along the line of 385 yards with decidedly squarer turns at one end.

That not only made the 220-yard dash and hurdles run on the square-ish curve more than a bit interesting, pity the poor runner who drew the sixth lane. For jutting out halfway in that lane was the concrete base of the stadium flag pole.

The space where the track once traversed these days is a walkway between the grandstands and the artificial-turf field. The old visitors’ grandstand, a concrete behemoth, has been replaced with something of a more modern construction.

But with its demolition also went the smelly old (but somehow quaint) locker rooms, where the joys of victory were savored and the wounds of defeat were salved. The old locker rooms have been replaced with a modern field house, built where team heavyweights long putted the shot.

Amazingly, the large covered wooden home grandstands have survived. And what a treat it was to take in the raised front walkway to the 50-yard line, then head up into those stands to where paternal grandfather “Pop” would, for decades, take in football games.

I’m sure I could smell his pipe as I sat down in his usual spot to enjoy the view. Not long ago, brother Shannon gave me Pop’s old folding stadium seat, one that took at least a modicum of posterior and back pain out of sitting on the old wood bleacher benches.

Ah, those memories – and others …

Public address announcer Art Simpson telling runners to report to the east end of the stadium for the start of an event. Then adding, “If you don’t know where that is, listen for the waves” …

Track team “weight men” – shot putters and discus throwers – turning an assistant coach’s old beater of a sports car on its back end and up against the ticket office building …

The marching band on any given fall home football Friday night performing its signature “Swing March”…

A pretty girl donning a purple cape atop her beautiful white horse – a Purple Rider incarnate …

A high school graduation ceremony and a few hundred kids on the cusp of adulthood, convinced they had the world by the tail. Time shows more than a few did.

Indeed, the old mill town –the birthplace of bright luminaries from literary giant William Dean Howells to pro football legend Lou “The Toe” Groza — is longer in the tooth now than it was long in the tooth then. But folks are trying to bring it back. And some are succeeding. It’s proof positive that boot-strap pulling continues to have a pulse in this sleepy river enclave.

And for a certain scrivener, the values and the discipline instilled day after day (and sometimes night after night) on the stadium’s old cinders made all the difference.

Talk about a home-field advantage.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

British Airways (& another assorted red flag)

A Post-Gazette editorial opines that a $3 million taxpayer subsidy to British Airways to re-establish direct flights from Pittsburgh to London “appears to meet the responsibility test.”

That’s because, the P-G says, “It’s in line with what other U.S. cities have provided for London service” and that “the incentives likely will pay for themselves in short order.”

And, after all, the editorial adds, “There’s no shortage of demand” for such a flight out of Pittsburgh.

To the first point – since when is proper stewardship of scarce public dollars gauged by the degree to which other cities have been fleeced?

To the second point – this notion of corporate wealthfare “paying for itself” always is a non sequitur; if the public subsidy pays for itself, why should the public pay at all (other than purchasing tickets)?

To the third point – if there’s “no shortage of demand,” why does this endeavor require a public subsidy?

Speaking of the forthcoming resumption of British Airways’ Pittsburgh-London flight – in April 2019 — Allegheny County officials continue to play volleyball in producing documentation to support the claim that the flights will have a local economic impact of $57 million.

The office of Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald could not produce the study when queried Friday last. That’s despite the fact that Fitzgerald ballyhooed the number during the July 25 announcement.

His office hit the ball over to the county Airport Authority where, once again, a spokesman could not readily produce any documentation to support the claim.

He said the authority’s “air service person” had the information and it would be had this week.

Five days later (as of Wednesday morning), the requested documentation had yet to be produced.

One would think that such a centerpiece claim of grand economic impact would be not only quantifiable but readily available.

Curiously, when Nashville landed a similar British Airways flight nearly a year ago – flights that began this past May — for a like-$3 million in public subsidies, officials there touted an economic impact of $103 million.

The Nashville Post reported that the economic impact number came from – drum roll, please –British Airways.

And now, to the other assorted red flag:

A frequent correspondent passed along a news release from the Forbes Funds and Neighborhood Allies about their partnering to “increase the collective impact of community and economic development nonprofit organizations in the Pittsburgh region.”

Uh-oh.

Continues the announcement of this coming exercise that smacks of “progressive social justice” masquerading as “public policy”:

“The organizations are developing a transformation leadership model through which regional resources will be better aligned around equitable development, increase employment and reduce trauma and violence.”

Then in the news release we are told by Neighborhood Allies President Presley Gillespie:

“Only when nonprofits, organizations and residents share common goals and align their metrics and actions can communities build capacity and impact at scale.”

But as the frequent correspondent noted, something is missing here.

What could it be?

Wait… Wait for it…

Ah, yes, he reminds: “Not one mention of for-profit business.”

You know, the folks who typically pay for all this through higher taxes, excessive regulations and a collection of collectivists’ hoops.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

 

 

British Airways buncombe

We know public policy obscenity when we see it. And the Allegheny County Airport Authority, often with an assist from “The State,” has been delivering a lot of it over the past year with public subsidies for airline after airline, then patting itself on the back for the economic “progress” it is supposedly commanding.

As if recidivist marketplace perversion is “progress.”  As if such government interventionism leads to anything other than the “need” for the government to intervene again and again– to cover up the lie of each succeeding government intervention.

The authority and the usual cadre of county and state officials, accompanied by a brass band and no fewer than three cakes, announced last week that British Airways would end a 20-year absence and once again offer, beginning in April 2019, direct flights between Pittsburgh and London.

Authority CEO Christina Cassotis called it a major coup. A British Airways executive said there were “many great compelling reasons” to re-start service to Pittsburgh.

Actually, he could cite 3 million reasons. As in the $3 million that British Airways will be paid in public dollars over the next two years to restore service – the latest public subsidy to end all public subsidies in what has become a perpetual pump-priming exercise.

Added an industry strategist, quoted in a Post-Gazette story:

“This is really, really a big deal for the folks in Pittsburgh. It really does begin to put you on the global map with such a respected carrier as British Airways. To get a true global network player in your city suggests that your dot on the map is increasingly important.”

Or that the airline industry knows what a soft touch you are in diving into the public’s pockets to provide corporate wealthfare.

This latest bolus of public money to pay for air transport “progress” comes from the state Department of Community and Economic Development — $1.5 million a year for two years. It’s the largest such subsidy ever given at the Findlay Township facility.

And quite frankly, some of the quotes from the principals involved are as obscene as the subsidy itself.

“It’s a partnership incentive that says we’ve skin in the game,” Cassotis told the Tribune-Review. “(British Airways has to) build up this market and make it work, so here’s a way of taking the sting out of the startup.”

That’s not only offensive but nuts. The only “skin” the public should have in this “game” is the buying of tickets. Any “sting” of starting up such service should be borne solely by British Airways. For that’s how it works: In a market economy, a company risks its own money in pursuit of profit. Taxpayers are not venture capitalists.

Then there are the claims – unquestioned in media accounts – that the British Airways flights will have an economic impact of $57 million. Where’s the study that suggests this?

Despite Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald citing the claimed impact number, his office could not produce the study when contacted by the Allegheny Institute on Friday.

“I presume that it would be something the airport would have so I would reach out to Bob Kerlik,” emailed Amie Downs, Fitzgerald’s spokesperson.

Kerlik, the airport authority’s spokesman, responding to a Friday email seeking the study, said he would “have to get it from our air service person” this week.

Hard to believe that such a highly touted document was not readily available after being so recently touted.

That said, reasonable people would like to know what multiplier effect was applied and how realistic it is. Or was the $57 million number created out of whole cloth?

Additionally, county officials rationalize the public treasury should support these flights because a number of Pittsburgh companies have London offices, among them PPG and the Reed Smith and K&L Gates law firms. But what business do taxpayers have subsidizing the travels of any of these concerns?

None.

Another rationalization is that the routes are public-subsidy worthy because London is a popular leisure spot. Since when should taxpayers at large subsidize anyone’s vacation?

Never.

Then there’s British Airways itself. Said Simon Brooks, the airline’s senior vice president for North America:

“There is a pent-up demand for people wanting to go to not just London but all over the UK, to places like Germany, France, Italy, so we’ll be able to deliver that.”

Well, if there’s such a “pent-up demand,” shouldn’t British Airways be able to deliver its services on the expectation of turning a tidy profit without milking Pennsylvania taxpayers?

You’re darn tootin’ it should be.

As we are reminded in the preface to Frederic Bastiat’s classic “Economic Sophisms” tutorial, the public has been despoiled of a great part of its wealth because it is unable to detect the error in the “delusive sophisms” of government-types who exploit is gullibility and its ignorance of economics.

Recount this sentiment every time someone in Allegheny County government announces the latest dollop of corporate wealthfare and defends it by saying “This is the way business is done.”

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

 

 

Weekend essay: Brace yourselves — or not

It’s not even August but this old country boy suddenly is seeing signs of a tough winter to come.

The sugar cane that has become something of a front-yard novelty is setting its seeds a solid six weeks ahead of schedule.

This member of the sorghum family, which most passersby mistake for corn, is barely four feet tall. Now, that’s where it should be in late July. But those telltale yellow top plumes that are forming now and then will turn a beautiful bronze typically don’t do so until early September. And then not until those cane stalks begin to top out near the 10-foot mark.

Two squirrels were caught observing the phenomenon just the other day from atop the porch roof. Their cane interest is more acute than in years past since they watched a crew take down an oak across the street, one whose acorns long had been prized for their bury-‘em-anywhere pantry.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said one. “And earlier than usual,” the other added. A blue jay confirmed the conversation.

Meanwhile, out back, the crab apple tree overhanging the deck has set the most fruit it ever has in nearly 30 years. The term “loaded for bear” comes to mind.

Branches that last year barely brushed the fully extended canvass awning this year were hanging nearly two feet lower. An aggressive pruning was needed to keep the retractable cover operational.

But all that fruit is a pretty solid sign that Mother Nature is preparing the faunae with ample florae for something. And that something typically is a winter wallop ahead.

Those branches of plenty surely are preparing to bank a feast to feed birds and squirrels alike as a good old-fashioned deep snowpack persists.

But there are other signs that the winter to come might be a winter we’ll all like to forget.

The out-of-cycle cicadas started singing earlier than usual. Their clarion back-to-school chorus commenced a month early.

Woodpeckers have been very active. And the fact that some are sharing the same tree – another harbinger for old winter-prognosticating hands –should not be taken lightly.

Woolly worms? Out and about early and more than a few have been nearly all black – another precursor old country boys older than me suggest should sound the harsh winter alert.

Some might ascribe these indicators to “folklore.” Others will label them “old wives tales.” Still others will figure out a way to contort it all into a proof-positive case of “global warming.”

Nonetheless, when the storms of the winter of 2018-19 arrive, yours truly will be the first to remind you of the ruminations herein.

Of course, should the coming winter fall short of being a walloping whopper, and never having been a fan of readers prosecuting recriminations, the cyber record of this column might just magically disappear. Ahem.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).

Notes on the state of things

Pennsylvania is among 44 states where federal health officials say people have been sickened by backyard chicken flocks. About 212 people have been stricken with a variety of salmonella strains, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Lest anyone fear there’s some scary word ending in “demic” – as in epidemic — about to befall us all, a bit of context:

Those 212 reported cases represent 0.000064 percent of the U.S. population. And in Pennsylvania, well, only between one and four cases of chicken-to-human salmonella infections have been reported from backyard flocks, the CDC says.

Kudos to the CDC for alerting the public to such things. But those tempted to prosecute a public policy that might ban such backyard flocks should stand down. After all, health officials say hand-washing (and proper fowl- and egg-washing when the time comes) goes a very long way in stopping salmonella in its tracks.

That, and not allowing your kids take those chickens to bed with them. Ahem.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County is touting the results of a rider satisfaction survey.

It reported positive scores from 45 percent of bus riders and 51 percent of light-rail passengers.

It defends the fact that 55 percent of bus riders and that 49 percent of light-rail riders had negative views by rationalizing that, hey, nationwide, positive impressions for both are 33 percent.

One can only wonder what the percentages would have been had the surveyors asked customers about the Port Authority’s outrageously out-of-whack cost structure – and how officials would rationalize those assessments.

Meanwhile, back at the Allegheny County Airport Authority’s Department of Paid “Progress”:

Southern Airways Express has ended its daily service from Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) to Harrisburg. It had been the only airline to offer the flights. Southern says there was insufficient demand.

But authority CEO Christina Cossotis says several other regional carriers currently not operating at PIT might be interested in picking up the service.

“We know it’s a good market … (W)’re gonna go after them,” she told the newspaper.

What that means, exactly, isn’t clear. If it means there’s a real market for the flights, as Cassotis claims but Southern disputes, and some new regional carrier wants to risk its own money in pursuit of a profit, go for it.

But, past being prologue, if it means all manner of public subsidies are thrown at an airline in government’s latest attempt to create and command a market, sorry, but no.

“Flying to Harrisburg is preposterous,” says Jake Haulk, the president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. “The time getting to the airport, unless you live close, park the car and get through security could easily be two hours. When you get to the airport on the Susquehanna (River) 45 minutes later, you still have to get to a cab or rental car to make your way to your destination.

“Then there is the cost. Why would anyone think that, absent hubbing activity, the route would ever be profitable?”

Well?

Then there’s OneJet. The recipient of the largest bolus of corporate wealthfare ever doled out by the authority isn’t living up to its end of a multimillion-dollar, public-subsidy “bargain.”

You might recall that OneJet was lavished with $3 million in subsidies, loans and grants from the authority, county and commonwealth in return for promising to begin 10 new routes. It remains two short.

To its credit, the authority is talking about taking back a portion of the $1 million it gave to OneJet, which blames the delay on a move to larger jets and delays at airports in Nashville and Memphis to reconfigure their gates to accommodate those planes.

But the far better plan would have been to let the marketplace work. If there truly was/is a market for these flights, OneJet, in pursuit of profit, should risk its own money.

The bottom line remains that no authority, and not county or state government, has any business turning taxpayers into venture capitalists.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).