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June 2012
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POLITICS? Bowling Green grant's timing is interesting

We don't begrudge the effort by our friends in Bowling Green to attract commercial air service similar to what we have enjoyed in Paducah in recent years. More power to them.

But the materialization of a $750,000 recruitment grant to the community in a week when the governor pulled $21.2 million from the state's rainy day fund to plug a $91 million "hole" in the current budget certainly sends contradictory messages about the state's financial situation.

Could there be a little politics involved here? More on that in a moment.

It was not that long ago that only four cities in Kentucky had commercial air service - Louisville, Lexington, Covington and Paducah. Owensboro has more recently joined the list.

Like Paducah, Bowling Green struggles with the issue of "leakage'' of potential air passengers to Nashville. In fact the issue is more pronounced in Bowling Green because the trip to Nashville is roughly one hour, less than half what it takes doorstep to curb to get to Nashville International Airport from Paducah. Bowling Green leaders say studies show 700,000 people from the airport's 10-county market area travel to Nashville each year to catch commercial flights.

Bowling Green is seeking to attract air service connecting to Chicago or Atlanta, much as Paducah sought in the not-too-distant past. For the past several years Paducah has had the good fortune to have two flights a day to and from Chicago on 50-seat regional jets operated by United Express. Having daily jet service to one of the biggest hub airports in the world is undoubtedly an important economic development asset for a city our size, and it is understandable that Bowling Green wants the same thing.

To that end the community has put together an incentive package that including the state grant totals $2 million. It's a little unclear how the incentive would be used, since it obviously would be one-time money, although we will note that Paducah raised and spent substantial sums to promote passenger use of the United Express service when it was first establishing itself here.

However the money is used, we're happy Bowling Green received it and we respect the community's carrier recruitment initiative. But we also find the politics a little interesting.

Originally Bowling Green was set to receive $750,000 for its recruitment effort in the transportation budget approved earlier this year by the Kentucky Legislature. But Gov. Steve Beshear decided to veto the money. Beshear said the appropriation was unnecessary because there were funds available for aviation projects in the state's Aviation Economic Development Fund (although 53 public aviation facilities in the state compete for those funds).

The governor's veto of money that had been a sure thing for a top local priority couldn't have been a popular move in Bowling Green. But even as the state is wringing its hands over whether this year's budget shortfall means even bigger trouble for next year's budget, $750,000 falls out of the sky (no pun intended) for Bowling Green.

More interesting is that, according to a story in the Bowling Green Daily News, the money will become available by July 2015, conveniently just a few months ahead of the general elections for statewide office. Gov. Beshear of course isn't running for re-election next year; he's term limited. But Beshear's son Andy is running, for Attorney General, the same office that was the launchpad for Steve Beshear's eventual rise to governor.

Despite the adage about sins of the father, one can only wonder if the governor didn't feel it wise to expiate himself on this one. Form your own opinion. We just think it is an interesting coincidence. Folks in Bowling Green had to be pretty mad about the governor's veto. Nothing like three-quarters of a million as salve for the wound.

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