April 24, 2013 – UPDATED, APRIL 29, 10:07 A.M.*
WASHINGTON D.C. – Finding a solution to the sequestration issue won’t be easy and its impact on the Spokane region could be felt if Congress can’t resolve the loss of funding, a group of Spokane and Northern Idaho civic leaders were told Wednesday.
Forty business, community and higher education leaders are in Washington D.C. for the Spokane region’s annual advocacy trip. The group met Wednesday with all federal elected officials from the region, save for Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), who was preoccupied with a meeting with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
“This is the current crisis,” Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) told the group, when talking about sequestration.
The Spokane area is greatly impacted by sequestration cuts to the air traffic control towers at Spokane International Airport and Felts Field. Civic leaders say those cuts harm public safety and jobs. Reversing the sequester cuts will take some sort of legal challenge.
“The way the sequester was drafted, these are across the board cuts,” said Shawn Bills, Legislative Director for Senator Murray. Bills went on to say that the sequestration legislation mandated certain cuts. A legal challenge to reverse those cuts is pending.
Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) says the biggest and obvious question among members of Congress and especially members of the Washington delegation is simple: Why?
McMorris Rodgers said air traffic controllers are deemed “essential employees” during government shut downs – meaning those people remain on the job during shut downs for public safety reasons.
“I think across the board, this is not the way we want to go forward,” she said.
*UPDATE: The United States Congress voted late in the week to reverse the furloughs handed out to air traffic controllers, meaning Spokane’s Felts Field and Spokane International Airport’s control towers will remain on regular hours.
KC-46A Tanker Decision Delayed
McMorris Rodgers herself and members of her staff said the U.S. Air Force’s decision on where to base the first round of KC-46A tankers has been delayed. The decision was to be announced May 1, but the Washington Republicans said that decision has been “pushed back.” A new date was not given.
All members of the Washington federal delegation are supportive of Fairchild Air Force Base’s attempt to receive the new tankers.
McMorris Rodgers said the Air National Guard is pushing for the new tankers to be based at a site where there is a Classic Association between an active duty wing and the Air National Guard. Fairchild Air Force Base fits that request perfectly. It features a Classic Association between the 92nd Air Refueling Wing and the 141st Washington Air National Guard Air Refueling Wing.
A small group from the Spokane and Northern Idaho group will meet Thursday with U.S. Air Force officials at the Pentagon.
This annual advocacy trip to Washington D.C. is planned through a partnership between Greater Spokane Incorporated, and the West Plains, Spokane Valley, Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene chambers of commerce.