AFTER SOME UNUSUALLY intense senatorial scrutiny and an impressive personal effort by Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole, there is good news from Capitol Hill about National and Dulles airports. Yesterday a Senate committee voted 12 to 4 for Secretary Dole's proposal to get Uncle Sam out of the airport business. While the legislation still has miles to go before any takeoff for presidential signature, things are, as they say in the business, looking up.
On the Senate floor, as well as in the House, the message in this solid committee vote should be clear: the measure represents 1)a sensible and overdue delegation of federal authority, and 2)a good approach to sound airport management.
It's a matter of smart money, too. The bill calls for turning the airports over to a regional authority responsible to the people and governments of Greater Washington and the two states. This authority could float tax-exempt bonds to underwrite improvements -- including a ground layout at National and a midfield terminal at Dulles. In addition, the federal government would be relieved of all the day-to-day operational management that it has had to conduct as the proprietor of these two terminals.
The Senate committee members even took an extra step yesterday in response to arguments by some Maryand leaders that the proposal might leave Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the state at an economic disadvantage. A provision reimbursing Maryland for money it spent for the airport has been added to the legislation. There is also language providing for inclusion of BWI in the regional authority if Maryland becomes interested.
Mrs. Dole, along with former Virginia governor Linwood Holton and Sens. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Paul Trible and John Warner of Virginia, all have gone to great lengths to respond to the concerns of the federal government as well as the two participating states and the District. Members of Congress should be eager to put responsibility for the airports where it belongs -- and approval of this sound fiscal and transportation move would do that.