News Article - July 04, 2007

Hazleton cargo airport funding dropped  
  HARRISBURG —Funding for the proposed cargo airport in the Hazleton area is out of the state budget package likely to be voted upon today by lawmakers. The $1.6 billion project appeared on a fast track when it surfaced in the budget deal announced by Gov. Ed Rendell a week ago. But significant opposition developed in the Senate during the weekend to making the cargo airport a top-priority project funded with slots revenues. The clincher came when a Senate committee Sunday night removed a $495 million authorization for the airport project from a bill earmarking a share of slots revenues for economic development. Other projects across the state were removed from the bill, too.

   Three projects survive in the bill: the Philadelphia Convention Center expansion, Pittsburgh International Airport expansion and Pittsburgh Penguins hockey arena. However, senators of both parties said the cargo airport project as well as the other projects will get a second shot at a share of slots revenues when the Senate drafts a new bill this fall. The catch is that projects in this second bill won’t have the same priority as the three listed in the existing bill.

   Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and Sen. Jane Earll, R-Erie, the committee chairwoman, said the committee’s action isn’t a reflection on the merits of the airport project. “We felt we had to remove the Hazleton project. That project will have an opportunity for another day in the sun,” she said.

   Three area lawmakers, Sens. Raphael Musto, D-Pittston Township; Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, and John Gordner, R-Columbia, sit on the committee. They said they still plan to attach conditions to the use of state money for the airport project when the second bill is introduced. The three senators said the airport project became a lightning rod for senators upset that their projects were being removed from the bill. The three felt the same qualms about the removal of projects affecting their districts, too. They said it’s important to give a legislative committee time to finish an in-depth study of the airport project.

   Sen. James Rhoades, R-Schuylkill, criticized the committee’s action. He plans to offer an amendment to restore the airport funding. The prime supporter of the airport project, Rep. Todd Eachus, D-Butler Township, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Source - Times-Tribune