Washington woes hit home

Budget battle could delay planned YVRA improvements

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— The Yampa Valley is feeling ripple effects from a budget impasse in Washington that has left most spending bills unresolved two months into the federal government's fiscal year.

Iraq war funding has taken center stage in the budget battle between President Bush and the Democratic Congressional leadership, but that is just one facet in a broader appropriations struggle that includes domestic spending legislation from the Farm Bill to Federal Aviation Administration authorization. Both are among an array of spending bills that face veto threats from the president. Democrats have added $22 billion to the 2008 domestic budget proposed by Bush.

One of the biggest projects in Routt County's proposed 2008 budget - a $3.8 million taxiway improvement - may be delayed an entire year because of the holdup in FAA authorization.

"They're just not appropriating money," Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad said. "The parallel taxiway project may not happen next year."

That project was to be funded through FAA grants and "passenger facility charges." Even though federal lawmakers have passed stopgap bills and continuing resolutions to keep the government afloat in the interim, damage is still being done.

For example, the FAA bill includes a provision to increase passenger facility charges. But since continuing resolutions only maintain the current charges, airports are losing revenue each month the full authorization bill is delayed. YVRA is missing out on a net increase of $22,156 for each month of delay in enacting long-term authorization, according to a letter drafted by the FAA and sent to Colorado Congressional representatives.

YVRA Manager Dave Ruppel said the airport also is unable to collect the full grant amounts it has been awarded because the continuing resolutions only provide a portion of them at a time. He said the taxiway improvement couldn't begin until all the money for the project is in hand.

"Whatever portion they provide is all we can plan for," Ruppel said. "The FAA isn't going to allow us to start a project we don't have full funding for."

Ruppel said he hoped to start the project in April, but it's "very likely we'll end up being delayed."

"We're going to be held up by the authorization," Ruppel said. "It's unlikely it will be resolved at that point."

Sixteen percent of Routt County's expected revenues of $61.4 million in 2008 come from federal sources. Those funds are mostly directed to the budgets for social services and road and bridge, in addition to the airport. While these are the areas most likely to be impacted, Strnad said it is hard to say how other projects and departments might be affected by the budget impasse in Washington because some of the federal funds have already been appropriated.

"This is pretty unusual that we get this much of a stalemate," Strnad said. "I'm not certain how that's going to play out."

County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said last week that a feasibility study for a South Routt transit service might be delayed because that study is being funded by a grant from the Federal Transportation Administration. Mitsch Bush sent out a request for proposal for the study, but it could be months before the county can get a contract.

City of Steamboat Springs officials are less concerned about the deadlock in Washington. Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord and Finance Director Bob Litzau said they aren't aware of any projects or programs that could be affected. As in the county, transportation is an area most likely to be impacted, but officials said there are no major projects on the ropes. Federal money for a transit facility being constructed in Craig has already been appropriated.

"Our capital replacement plans are far enough out and flexible enough that we'll wait patiently and see," Transportation Director George Krawzoff said.

Spokespeople for the Yampa Valley's Congressional representatives expressed disappointment about the budget gridlock. All said the Colorado delegation is working to resolve it, but are having its efforts blocked by political adversaries.

"Nobody is working together to get things done, to Congressman Salazar's disappointment," said Eric Wortman, a spokesman for Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo. "The president has taken a my-way-or-the-highway approach."

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., however, places blame not on the president, but on the Democratic Congressional leadership, specifically Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"The fault of this stalemate needs to lie at the feet of those who are in charge," said Steve Wymer, an Allard spokesman.

Last week, Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan expressed a concern that there might not be an end in sight for the partisan bickering, suggesting political will and motivation to get the spending bills passed could be lacking until after next year's presidential election.

While admitting that political maneuvering might play a role in when the bills are passed, Wymer said waiting that long would amount to "abdication of duty" on the part of Congress.

"I don't think there's any real credible effort to hold this off until the presidential race," he said. "We'll keep trying to get something done here by Christmas."

Wortman agreed that the budget couldn't simply be ignored for that long.

Hints on when a compromise might be reached should come next week - when Congress returns from its Thanksgiving recess - but so far, there still are heels dug in on both sides.

Stephanie Valencia, a spokeswoman for Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., said that while the delay of projects such as the YVRA runway improvement are unfortunate, it is important for federal programs to be adequately funded.

"The senator understands the uncertainty this is causing for people and is disappointed that the president has taken the stance he has," Valencia said. "But it is worth the fight."

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