Conn. senator seeks to block airport funding cuts

Monday - 3/18/2013, 2:30pm EDT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- A group of Republican and Democratic senators, joined by Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, is backing legislation that would block federal aviation officials from eliminating funding for air traffic control towers, including six in Connecticut.

Legislation backed by the Connecticut Democrat and other lawmakers would make $50 million available in the Federal Aviation Administration budget and limit cuts called for in across-the-board automatic spending reductions. Some airports could instead rely on towers at unaffected airports while others might have to close, Blumenthal said.

The FAA is targeting air traffic control towers as part of $85 billion in automatic federal budget cuts. Control towers in Connecticut that would be affected are Danbury Municipal, Groton-New London, Hartford-Brainard, Sikorsky Memorial, Tweed-New Haven and Waterbury-Oxford.

"These cuts are preventable and imprudent," Blumenthal said on Monday. "The money is there."

Blumenthal and representatives of the Connecticut Airport Authority and several Connecticut airports were scheduled to meet on Monday to discuss the budget problems.

Legislation sponsored by the lawmakers would add $50 million to ensure that towers staffed by contract employees remain open, and rescinds $50 million in FAA research and capital funds. The measure also makes clear that contract tower programs are subject to the same 5 percent budget cut as other programs in the FAA's budget. The senators say the FAA is seeking a 75 percent spending cut.

The FAA said in a statement it has offered to sponsors for 189 airports within the FAA's contract tower program the opportunity to explain why eliminating funding would "adversely affect the national interest." The agency said it has received a large number of responses and delayed until Friday its final decision and announcement of funding cuts.

While Blumenthal focused his criticism on the potential job losses at airports and other industries that could result from the budget cuts, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., accused President Barack Obama of "playing politics with public safety."

Blumenthal said lawmakers "should put the politics aside" and work to keep airport operations funded.


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