Editorials

MidAmerica Airport tallies $81 million in subsidies and counting

From 2002 to 2015, MidAmerica St. Louis Airport has needed $81 million in subsidies from St. Clair County taxpayers. There also is an $88 million debt outstanding on its construction.
From 2002 to 2015, MidAmerica St. Louis Airport has needed $81 million in subsidies from St. Clair County taxpayers. There also is an $88 million debt outstanding on its construction.

Thanks to the financial stewardship of St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern and the Public Building Commission, MidAmerica St. Louis Airport only needed a $6.5 million subsidy from St. Clair County taxpayers in 2015. That’s down from $7.6 million in 2014.

“We continue to move in the right direction,” Kern said. “The more flights we have, the more landing fees, and concessions and other things ... continue to move the airport operating (to) a break-even level.”

Oh, boy. Moving there at the speed of flight, just a few passengers buying soda and Twinkies away from solvency.

Kern continues demonstrating his fiscal acumen with this tidbit: If you remove the cost of debt service, the airport needed only $1.5 million in taxpayer subsidy.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could ignore their debt? Without your mortgage and credit card obligations, imagine how prosperous you’d appear.

The new debt Kern wants to disavow is the $88 million refinancing they engineered last year by extending the airport construction debt by 30 years. Leave it to Mark to take less than $40 million in existing debt for an airport built 20 years ago and more than double it with a pay-off date in 2045. You’re welcome, grandkids.

The county has subsidized MidAmerica with at least $81 million — the grand total is unclear because county audits did not break out the amount before 2002. That would be $81 million in extra taxes for you.

And just because the number is down this year doesn’t mean it is a trend as Kern would have you believe. The subsidy was “only” $3.2 million in 2011 before popping up to $7.6 million in 2014.

MidAmerica helped save Scott Air Force Base during the 2005 base closings, but it was not built to save Scott. While the airport’s 10,000-foot runway is of value to the military, the terminal, passenger flights and cargo facilities are not. If the county leadership views multi-million dollar losses as investments in protecting the base, that seems to be an incredibly wasteful way to address the quality of life, security and encroachment issues the military truly values. Everyone might come out ahead by figuring out the path to just giving MidAmerica to the Air Force.

MidAmerica lost its place as a St. Louis reliever airport thanks to 9/11 and its inability to find a purpose in a changing marketplace. Fifteen years later we hear that prosperity is just around the corner — which blinds county leaders to the money realities they should face, or that you should force them to face.

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