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Sense and affordability

February 3, 2011 - Rob Weaver
I really should buy a new, full-sized diesel pickup.

Even rated at three-quarter ton, such a truck still would deliver about same fuel mileage I get with my compact truck, while being able to haul three times as much weight and pull tons more.

Plus, I could put 250,000 miles on it before the diesel engine needed to be rebuilt.

And I KNOW it would fit my my side of the garage -- barely. All these points in favor of buying a new diesel truck.

The deal breaker is the cost. A 2011 three-quarter ton diesel pickup would cost at least $35,000. Sure, I could argue it very well might be the last vehicle I would ever buy (OK, the last four-wheeled vehicle) but the plain truth is I couldn’t afford the monthly payments.

So, I’ll stick with my 11-year-old Ranger. Blame that conclusion on my Midwestern sensibilities.

I have to wonder, though, whether I might reach a different conclusion if I lived in our nation’s capital. Because money -- affordability -- doesn’t seem to enter the equation for our decision-makers in Washington.

Case in point: The federal government’s essential air service program, which subsidizes scheduled air service to some 150 communities across the nation. The program was created in the wake of airline deregulation in 1978 due to concern airlines would drop service to smaller airports. In other words, taxpayers are paying airlines to serve unprofitable routes.

Some conservative members of Congress have proposed eliminating the program, which is to cost $200 million this year. The idea has merit: development over the past 32 years has put more transportation alternatives closer to communities that no longer may be so remote -- or as populated. A Government Accountability Office report in 2009 said subsidized flights were only about a third full.

Of course, supporters make a good point, too. They say the communities on the receiving end of the subsidies need airline service to help with economic development. In fact, an aviation bill now before the Senate would increase funding for the program.

I see the essential air service program as an crucial test for lawmakers in Washington. I have no doubt some communities served by the program would suffer if it were discontinued. I also think they would survive.

But our nation is more than $14 trillion in debt. The federal budget is expected to run a record $1.5 trillion deficit this fiscal year. Yet few in Washington admit that, yes, that airline service subsidy program is a nice idea, but we just can’t afford it.

If we can’t kill a $200 million program that subsidizes what essentially still is a luxury -- air travel -- then don’t ever expect our federal government to live within a budget, let alone spend 40 percent less than it is now. Imagine all the good ideas that would have to be forgotten because we simply cannot afford them.

It would be easier to get Congress to reinstate the Cash for Clunkers program, one expanded to make new diesel-powered pickups affordable to residents of small, rural communities.

 
 

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