There’s been some debate about the expansion of the airport lately. Some of the discussion has been productive, some of it not, some of it has been pretty off the mark, and in some cases insulting.
I represent the folks living on Hillcrest, near where the new Department of Transportation is going to be built. They’ve brought forward a set of arguments, many of which I agreed with. I spoke out and voted against the sale of that county parcel to the state for the building of the facility. I felt there were possibly better locations and wanted more investigation. I lost the vote on that. Ten of my fellow legislators disagreed with me and the land was sold. I’m now left trying to make the best of the situation. I believe thanks in large part to those resident’s work, the fuel farm has been moved from that site onto the airport fence line, allowing greater usage by the state and county. We are also still working with the state to mitigate the impact of the DOT facility on those neighbors.
These have been well thought out arguments, but other arguments have been less so. One is that the money being spent on the upgrades would be better spent on affordable housing or other noble causes like reducing the jail population. It’s the disconnect that concerns me. The county does invest in programs for marginalized groups. Not a week goes by where affordable housing isn’t on our agenda. We invested more than a million dollars in new money last year to keep people charged with non-violent offenses out of jail and it’s work we continue today. We’re working on building a 40-bed detox facility. The airport does not rob these other programs of financing.
The airport grants from the state and hopefully from the federal government are narrow, meaning they are for airports. That’s it. These are not unrestricted funds. These funds have strings. If we did not apply for these grants for the airport, some other county would. This is your money. You’ve paid in. The county is simply trying to bring your taxes back to you and in this instance, those taxes are being earmarked for airports. When there is money earmarked for affordable housing, drug treatment, or buses, you can believe that the county will be applying for that money too and we won’t be spending money for drug treatment on buses or vice versa.
With the renovations at the airport, we will be adding a customs facility. I’d like to be generous by saying there’s some misunderstanding as to what this facility is intended for, but I can’t. It’s no secret that I believe in legal immigration and that we as a nation should fix our system to register those wishing to work and live in the United States so they can do those things legally. This is my focus. I’m at odds with many others who focus on helping those in the country illegally evade authorities. But here’s where I’m confident we speak as one: the customs facility will NOT be a hub for the arrest and processing of illegal immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Our goal is to allow planes from outside the country to make their first stop in the United States here in Tompkins County.
Some say the airport only benefits Cornell. While that’s untrue, it’s unclear why something that benefits Cornell is a bad thing. Cornell employs almost 10,000 people in the county, with a payroll of almost a billion dollars. It brings hundreds of millions into the county. Yes, my Ithaca friends, we can argue against some of the changes Cornell makes or that Cornell should pay more despite it being one of the county’s largest property taxpayers. However, you can’t argue it’s not as much a part of Tompkins County as the gorges. The success of Cornell is Tompkins County’s success. Cornell is global, Tompkins County is global. To be global, we need global air service and the customs facility will do that. Our people think so, the governor made it a condition of funding, and the federal government sees that future too. The future is people; it always has been. To build that global future, those people need to be able to get here and we need to show up. I’ve been to airports like Rome with a small customs facility. Their job is checking airplanes and passengers coming into the country; not checking in on the local restaurant or farm.
We’ve come to a point where some in the community will not accept yes, will not accept the explanation of those elected by their fellow constituents and who believe their local officials have a hidden agenda. I would think that there would be some evidence of that. If there is, show me, but so far, these folks haven’t and I don’t expect they will.
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