Bad ideas die hard. Proof of this is the persistence of the idea that privatizing General Mitchell International Airport would somehow be of benefit to Milwaukee County. The idea persists among Milwaukee County’s right-wing believers, chief among them County Executive Scott Walker. By his thinking, through leasing operation of the airport to a third party, thereby removing it from the County’s (read: the people’s) control, the county might make money from the deal. That this would happen under the federal Airport Privatization Pilot Program seems like good reason to pause for consideration. Who, exactly, would benefit? Investors, perhaps. But not us.
This isn’t the first time the idea has come up. The board has been fighting this since at least 2006. That’s when 4th District Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic wrote a short piece opposing privatization for the Bay View Compass. The opportunity to publicly stand up against airport privatization was one reason I ran in the 2008 county board race. The 14th county district includes Mitchell Field, and hundreds of the people who work there. Three of the four candidates in the primary, myself included, were opposed to it. That stance got me a good number of votes in the primary and helped freshman Supervisor Chris Larson to win the general. (Note the airport control tower in the graphic on his County web site.)
Selling the airport to a third party would take all that money out of our hands, and could leave the local taxpayers with an even bigger bill to pay when the newly privatized institution runs aground. “All one need do is trace the recent history of the Public Museum in Milwaukee moving from a financially sound public entity to a near-bankrupt privatized one,” as Ed Garvey eloquently wrote in late 2007. Furthermore, he said, “Not mentioned… is the obvious fact that no one will purchase the airport unless he can see a profit that would come from indirect taxes on airlines and passengers.” Given the soaring costs of jet fuel, that need to stretch the buck will only hurt us in the end.
And according to Steve Schultze’s article on JSOnline, Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway has come out against airport privatization. Say, Chairman Holloway, work to get SEWRPC to come out against this. As the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission is supposed to be working in the economic interests of the region, and keeping the airport publicly owned would definitely be in all of our best interests, opposing the privatization of Mitchell Field is a logical position for that board to take.