Gov. Rick Perry is arranging for state funds to temporarily pay for air traffic controllers at 13 Texas airports set to lose funding related to federal automatic spending cuts.
The Federal Aviation Administration recently announced plans to close 149 airport towers at small and mid-sized airports around the country beginning April 7 as part of automatic budget cuts related to the sequester, a set of across-the-board government spending cuts enacted after lawmakers in Washington, D.C., couldn't agree to a compromise solution. In Texas, 13 airports will be affected immediately. Another two airports, Grand Prairie Municipal and Fort Worth-Spinks airports, have different funding arrangements with the FAA and will retain their federal funding until Sept. 30.
Perry sent a letter (embedded below) to Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ted Houghton on Wednesday requesting that the commission look into funding the affected airports' air traffic control workers out of state funds. The news was first reported by the Austin-American Statesman.
"While President Obama has chosen to make sequestration as painful as possible, I cannot with good conscience allow him to put his political agenda ahead of public safety," Perry wrote in the letter.
Thursday morning, officials with the Texas Department of Transportation scheduled an emergency meeting for April 4 and confirmed that the commission was set to approve the funding and reevaluate the situation after 90 days.
TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson said fulfilling the request will cost about $750,000 a month, which will come from money in the agency's aviation division. The affected airports' air traffic control workers are hired through private vendors that contract with the FAA, Wilson said.
“This has happened so quickly in regards to the impact on our state as far as the flying public," Wilson said. "We wanted to take at least those first 90 days, maintain those current operations and then analyze how we continue that from a sustainability standpoint, hoping that the sequestration issue involved with this part is resolved.”
Perry echoed recent comments from other Republicans in his letter in suggesting that the FAA could have found ways to cut its budget and keep airport towers open if it had wanted.
"This action far surpasses the grandstanding Americans have come to associate with sequestration talks by potentially jeopardizing the safety of Texas emergency personnel, citizens and visitors," Perry wrote.