Notes on the state of things

Notes on the state of things

Will Via Airlines be the next publicly subsidized embarrassment for the Allegheny County Airport Authority?

It was with the usual fanfare that the subsidy-happy authority announced it was paying a never specified premium (in addition to a “standard” one-year waiver of landing fees) to bring the small Florida carrier to Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT).

Via planned to fly from Pittsburgh to Birmingham, Ala., Memphis, Tenn., Hartford, Conn., and Austin, Texas, four times a week

“We’re happy. We’re thrilled,” said authority CEO Christina Cassotis in January. “They’ve got the right-sized aircraft. These are the kinds of markets they serve and we know these markets will perform when they get service.”

Or maybe not?

The Post-Gazette reported Friday that two weeks after beginning the Birmingham flights, those four-a-week flights have been trimmed to twice weekly. The airline is blaming a nationwide shortage of pilots. It hopes to return to its full schedule on June 28.

Until it doesn’t?

Via hasn’t exactly had a pristine customer service record. The U.S. Department of Transportation last year expressed “serious concerns” about the airline.

And, as another newspaper reported, “the LSU basketball team was forced to take a seven-hour bus ride back to Baton Rouge from Austin after its Via Airlines’ flight was canceled.”

Reviews of Via Airlines on Trip Advisor are simply horrid. By far, most of the reviews fell into the “Terrible” category.

Oh, well; sign ‘em up nonetheless, pay ‘em a premium and be “happy” and “thrilled.” Detect a pattern here?

And, by the way, shouldn’t a thorough vetting of Via had included a simple question such as this: “There’s a nationwide shortage of airline pilots that’s hitting smaller, regional airlines particularly hard; given that scenario, can you provide the service you are promising?”

Speaking of the Airport Authority and PIT, the Post-Gazette has editorialized that House Speaker Mike Turzai’s proposal to expand the Port Authority board of directors from nine to 13 members and include a modicum of state oversight “would mean greater risk of cronyism, political intrigue and other problems.”

As if the board’s to-date nonfeasance and gross conflicts of interest somehow are acceptable and don’t warrant a new check and balance?

Nowhere is sound public policy being perverted more than in the Pennsylvania dairy industry.

To wit, the Tribune-Review reports that Pleasant Lane Farms in Unity, Westmoreland County, has been awarded a public subsidy of more than $364,000 to build a cheesemaking facility to supplement milk production.

Milk prices have been depressed. There’s a glut of milk production. Public subsidies have created a hardly economic cycle of propping up prices that, in turn, maintains the glut that, yes, keeps prices depressed.

So what have the mavens of “The State” decided to do? Throw more subsidies at dairy farmers that only exacerbate the problem. Pleasant Lane Farms and others are receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars  from the new Dairy Improvement Program (authorized under the Legislature’s Act 42 last year).

Gov. Tom Wolf boasts that it “incentivizes the dairy industry to support the often costly and difficult process of modernizing or expanding their business model or operation.”

By making taxpayers unwitting venture capitalists.

Taxpayers have no business – zilch, none, nada – giving a private dairy farm $286,744 to construct a creamery for cheesemaking. Neither do they have any business giving the same dairy farmer $77,338 to market that cheese and to build an on-farm classroom and tour facility.

And then there’s a $400,000 loan from taxpayers, that will – get ready for this, folks, because it will put you over the top – allow the farm to increase its herd and produce even more milk.

What’s next, taxpayers building Pleasant Lane Farms a retail facility to sell its “state cheese”? And how soon before this farm is seeking even more subsidies because its increased milk production has yet again exacerbated the milk glut and continued to tamp down prices?

Private businesses – whether they be dairy farms, widget manufacturers or professional sports franchises – should pay for their own capital costs.

Sound public policy demands that the marketplace be preserved, not perverted. More’s the pity that government eschews the former while actively promoting the latter as “progress.”

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