Airport Authority balks at greater accountability

Airport Authority balks at greater accountability

What’s the phrase? Ah, yes: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

That’s the oft-quoted line from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” a reference to insincere overacting in response to an allegation. And it is most apropos to the “to-what-on-earth-are-you-alluding?” demeanor of the CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority regarding proposed legislation to add a much-needed check and balance to the authority’s board and overall operations.

On the heels of several high-profile fails — airlines that were lavished with oodles and boodles of public money to fly into Pittsburgh International Airport, then went belly-up or failed to perform – and dubious behavior by authority board members – rank conflicts of interest and hands-off “oversight” —  House Speaker Mike Turzai introduced legislation to expand the board of directors.

And, oh, yeah, there’s that billion-dollar-plus revamp of Pittsburgh International Airport bowing. A boondoggle in the making looms large.

Currently at nine members (and all appointed by the county chief executive), Turzai seeks to expand the board to 13 members. In the newly configured board, four would be appointed by the Legislature (two each by the respective legislative caucuses) and one by the governor).

Turzai’s rationale is simple – an agency that receives tens of millions of dollars a year in state funding should have a modicum of state oversight.

But as the Post-Gazette reported it, Airport Authority boss Christina “Cassotis questioned the need for any change in the board make-up when so many good things have been happening at Pittsburgh International.”

Such as, by contract, incentivizing cargo carrier Qatar Airways to fail?

Such as losing its shirt on “deals” with OneJet (bankrupt) and WOW Air (belly-up)?

Such as having board members that had invested in OneJet?

Such as having a solicitor who initially saw nothing wrong with that?

Such as the board giving Cassotis plenary power to hand out subsidies of any amount to any airline?

Such as once-subsidized Delta pulling its Pittsburgh-to-Paris flights after competitor British Airways was slathered with millions of dollars in public subsidies?

“I think it’s disappointing that we are being caught in a political battle when we have been so good at bringing the airport into the community’s success story and in fact are enabling it,” Cassotis told the P-G.

Talk about redefining “chutzpah.” And since when is enabling more and more corporate wealthfare part of any “community’s success story”?

Not far behind is county Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald:

“Now that you’ve got this uncertainty coming, it’s going to hurt our ability to compete with other airports around the country,” he said, saying, as the newspaper characterized it, that the uncertainty over the potential make-up of the board already is hindering Cassotis in her discussions with carriers.

What, those carriers fear the market-perverting free money gravy train is about to be derailed?

The Airport Authority has operated for far too long in a parallel universe in which it believes acceptable behavior, the immutable laws of economics and reality itself don’t apply.

But in the real world, they do apply. And it’s time to rein in the scofflaws.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).