Slowly, but sensibly, more and more members of Congress are recognizing the merits of getting Uncle Sam out of the business of running, repairing and paying for two local airports that local people are willing and able to take over. They and presumably some of their taxpaying constituents are realizing what would be the huge cost to the public of a vote against Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole's proposal to turn over National and Dulles airports to a regional authority. Defeat her compromise, and you're looking at $250 million in federal funds to fix up the airports. The amount doesn't seem to bother Sen. Ernest F. Hollings. He says, what the heck, it comes out of a large federal trust fund, anyway. But is that how other local airport authorities want to see it spnt?
A regional authority, one responsible to the people and governments of Greater Washington and the two states, could float tax-exempt bonds. This way, the airports' users would underwrite the improvements. In addition, the federal government would be relieved of all the day-to-day operational functions that it has had to perform as the proprietor of the two facilities.
Maryland's politicians have been opposing the transfer, arguing that Dulles may suddenly become too much of a better place if it and National are under the same regional authority. That, they claim, might somehow hurt Baltimore-Washington International Airport. But all signs point to plenty of business for both BWI and Dulles. Besides, though the Maryland officials claim that the regional authority is unfairly stacked, both Dulles and National are in Virginia. Maryland is represented in the authority, along with the District of Columbia and the federal government.
Opponents also argue that the regional authority should have to pay as much as $341.5 million for the two airports. That's a misleading figure based on an appraisal adjusted for inflation and calculated on what private developers could do with these properties if they weren't airports. But legislation restricts the airports to their intended uses.
As more legislators take a close look at Secretary Dole's bill, they should reach a conclusion similar to that voiced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia after hearings. "I started out on this skeptical, and so informed Chuck R bb. . . . But the more I listen to it, the more it seems to make sense."