The St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia illustrates the disconnect between spending and net results in government.
The airport's recent $7.4 million in runway improvements -- mostly federal dollars --helped the airport gain some professional hockey team charter business but little else. In fact, airport use is way down -- from 166,267 aircraft movements and 2 million gallons of fuel sold in fiscal 2010 to 84,040 movements and 1.7 million gallons of fuel in fiscal 2012.
Airport officials say it would be even worse if the improvements hadn't been made. Maybe, but $7.4 million worse?
The broader question: Why would the federal government invest anything when two other area airports -- Lambert and MidAmerica -- are seriously underused? Building a bigger runway to beef up business in Cahokia is going to hurt business at the other two.
Sadly, no one in government seems worried about return on investment. St. Louis Downtown Airport's budget even points out that it's different from private industry, "which must generate profits for purchase/replacement of property and equipment."
Federal money isn't free money. If depreciation and amortization were taken into account as they would be for private business, net income at St. Louis Downtown Airport would have been a $1.5 million loss rather than a modest profit in fiscal 2012.