Government spends too much money and we’d like to see that change. Can we all agree on that? But since Monday was the one-month anniversary of the steep budget cuts known as sequestration, it seems the difference between government waste and vital services depends on an individual’s point of view. Ask the people at Lakeland’s Linder Regional Airport, where the control tower was one of 100 the feds decided we could do without. In order to save the Sun ’n Fun festival at the airport, scheduled for next week, event organizers have to pay the Federal Aviation Administration $284,000 to staff the tower. Or ask passengers for a Carnival Cruise Lines vessel who had to wait hours to disembark Sunday at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale if the adequate staffing for the U.S. Customs service qualifies as wasteful spending.
This coming weekend would have been the popular AirFest show at MacDill, but it was an early victim of the cuts. Last week, we learned that Navy Week in Tampa also was whacked. Federal workers are facing furloughs. Staffing at national parks is being reduced. Is this a good time to mention that one area apparently vital to the national interest is the $174,000 salary paid to members of Congress? A suggestion by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to slash congressional pay until a budget deal is reached was met with resounding silence in the halls of power. "No one should get paid for inaction,” Nelson said in a statement when all the cuts began. “And Congress clearly hasn’t done the job to avert the sequester." Didn’t we know this is how it would go, though? U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, a Republican whose district includes parts of Hillsborough and Polk counties, noted that Sun ’n Fun is a big economic driver for Lakeland. The festival attracts an estimated 100,000 people. “It serves our children by investing $1.4 million dollars annually in education. It is unacceptable to close this important control tower,” he said. “Sun ‘n Fun will now have to pay the FAA $284,000 in order to keep this control tower functioning during the convention. This is more money that they must raise that will not go to help our children who are struggling in school.” Ross complained that while the FAA is closing control towers because of money, it still had $500 million to spend on consultants. He called that “waste, fraud and abuse.” That’s where we came in, though. Although $500 million is a lot to spend on consultants, that quote was clearly a talking point that was probably recommended by, well, consultants. Sam Graves, a Republican U.S. representative from Missouri, had essentially the same quote, right down to “waste, fraud and abuse.” The same goes for West Virginia Rep. David McKinley. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt and say cutbacks forced them to recycle quotes, but this is clearly a game of hyperbole on both sides of the aisle without real regard to those who get hurt. I guess it beats having to make equitable choices. And we are surprised by this? Didn’t think so.