Congress has rejected an effort by fiscally conscious members of the House to withhold federal funds for the “Airport to Nowhere” in Johnston, Pa., that bears the name of Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa.
The controversial airport –– used by Murtha to fly from his home district to Washington, D.C. –– has received nearly $200 million in federal money over the years, yet handles only a few commercial flights each week, Fox News reports.
Republicans and some Democrats in the House questioned why the little-used facility should receive such a large amount of federal dollars, even though the military does use the airport.
The motion stated: “It is both wasteful and irresponsible to use United States taxpayer dollars to continue to subsidize air service to an airport that has received approximately $150,000,000 in Federal funding, but has achieved no improvement in commercial service provided to the airport without subsidization.”
Despite the motion, the effort to block funds for the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria Airport east of Pittsburgh was defeated in the House by a 263-154 vote, with 11 Democrats siding with members of the GOP on the issue and 28 Republicans crossing over to vote with Democrats. The failed procedural vote to stop further funding of the airport was part of a larger $70 billion Federal Aviation Administration funding measure.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., defended the airport, noting that it provides service for 1,000 military personnel, including the National Guard.
Oberstar called the Republican effort to quash funding the airstrip “an assault on essential air service to rural America. If those on the other side are laughing now, I wonder what they’ll say when an amendment comes to ban essential air service in their area. I wonder if they’ll be laughing now. This is a harsh amendment,” Oberstar said.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement shortly after the vote that he was “disappointed that House Democrats are forcing taxpayers to keep their wallets open to pay for this and other wasteful pork-barrel projects.”
Calling the price tag of the Murtha airport “appalling,” Boehner added: “Middle-class families and small businesses are struggling during this recession, and asking them to pay even more just to help subsidize Rep. Murtha’s empty ‘monument to me’ is the height of Washington arrogance.”
When a Washington Post reporter visited the airport recently, there were just four passengers lined up to board a flight, outnumbered by seven security staffers and supervisors.
Yet the airport has a new terminal with a restaurant, a $17.8 million reinforced concrete runway capable of handling large jets, a motorized baggage carousel, and an $8 million high-tech radar system befitting an international airport — which remains unmanned.
“Doesn’t it seem kind of ridiculous to have a motorized carousel for the baggage claim when 15 people get off the airplane?” Johnstown native Bill Previte told The Post.
“To say this is wasteful understates how bad it really is,” Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., told The Hill.
Murtha, who continues to be plagued by ethics troubles, has been linked to the defunct lobbying firm PMA Group, the subject of an FBI raid last November. Investigators are looking for evidence that PMA made illegitimate campaign contributions to Murtha, who has personally secured at least $150 million in federal funding for the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria Airport, Politico reports.
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