The Economy Today: Airport Projects Ready for Takeoff

Headlines from North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and elsewhere

Stimulus skepticism is the name of the game this morning. The Los Angeles Times gives big play to a report prepared by Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, which catalogs failings of the stimulus bill. Some of his criticisms match John McCain’s Twitter grumblings from the original stimulus debate last February; for example, pointing to the fact that “millions of dollars are going toward bicycle lockers, bike paths, walking trails and a skate park.” Coburn also takes issue with the Social Security Administration’s handling of stimulus check distribution, focusing “on more than 8,000 Social Security checks that have been mailed to people who are dead.”

USA Today and The Associated Press have pieces on the airline industry and how it might fare in the recession. Travelers are redeeming more miles to travel for free, USA Today reports. According to United Airlines, the number of rewards-program members cashing in their points to get free or cheaper flights has increased by 12 percent. And the AP offers a Q&A on whether the recession will force airlines into bankruptcy, citing the precedent of the auto industry, revenue losses for all carriers, and nervous travelers. But, the AP’s expert source reminds readers that many airlines declared bankruptcy during the last recession, and are still benefiting from that restructuring.

The AP also shows just how hastily constructed the stimulus provisions were. The package offered some unemployed workers an extra twenty-five dollars. But that tiny bump in income has pushed some into an earning bracket where they are no longer eligible for food stamps, and have lost those benefits. Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix. Each state needs to amend its laws to let people qualify for the benefit.

In local news, North Carolina is preparing to move lots of dirt in its expansion of an airport in Asheville. Pennsylvania’s Lancaster Airport is also getting a stimulus-fund facelift for its runways, while Philadelphia’s airport will use stimulus money to expand baggage screening. And schools in Arizona and Texas are anticipating federal money to shore up budgets and expand programs.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Philly’s airport will receive twenty-six million dollars from the Department of Homeland Security to increase the airport’s baggage screening capabilities. The money is part of the fifty million needed to upgrade the systems, and the balance of the cash will come from bond funds. The Lancaster Intelligencer Journal reports that Lancaster Airport will also receive $3.2 million to revamp that airport’s aging runways. A bid has already been accepted on the project, but a start date is still up in the air.

Also in airport news, Asheville, N.C. will repair and expand its airport with just over fourteen million dollars in improvements, of which seven-and-a-half million will come from federal stimulus dollars, the Asheville Citizen-Times reports. Ten different projects will be launched next month, including “repaving the airport parking lot and approach road; expanding the parking toll plaza; adding space for general aviation aircraft to maneuver; installing equipment to handle sewage from aircraft; and putting in gear that will allow commercial aircraft to hook up to electrical service so they no longer have to idle while sitting near the terminal.”

In education news, Arizona’s community colleges will receive roughly forty million dollars, according to the Arizona Republic, to expand programs and train more students. Funding community colleges, some critics say, doesn’t immediately result in job growth, but it’s still a worthy cause. But the money hasn’t been spent quite yet — the community colleges are awaiting instructions from the governor about how they might spend it.

Some of Hawaii’s teachers are using stimulus dollars to travel to a conference on learning disabilities, the Post Crescent reports. Forty-four educators will attend the September event in Minnesota to learn more about working with learning disabled children.

And the Star Telegram reports that Fort Worth schools will receive stimulus money to improve their school cafeterias: “Fort Worth will get $563,000 to buy food processors, freezers, ovens and steamers while Arlington will get $111,000 for similar equipment. The purchases will help cafeteria officials present healthier food options and run operations more efficiently, officials said.” Fort Worth schools were among 3,000 districts that applied for these funds; only 381 grants were awarded.

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Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.