Naked City

Edited by Louisa C. Brinsmade, with contributions this week by Andrea Barnett, Nelson England, and Chris Walters.

MUD, LIES AND IBUPROFEN: A sore southpaw wasn't the only thing giving Mayor Bruce Todd twinges last week. At last Thursday's council meeting, a motion by Councilmember Brigid Shea to delay voting on money for a new customs gate at Mueller Airport triggered a vintage Todd outburst.

Shea had cited expert advice to the effect that spending $418,000 for a Federal Inspection Service (FIS) customs gate for foreign travellers at Mueller might be wasted money since there seemed to be little in the way of tangible demand for such a facility. Todd asked her where she'd been getting her information, and she said it came from local aviation economist Dan Akins, her appointee to the the Aviation Advisory Board. Todd responded with a tirade. "I am angry that the airlines are driving this discussion," he seethed, citing "the fact that [Akins] works for the airlines on a regular basis" as evidence of "the conflict of interest that he has." Todd claimed that Akins' opposition to moving the airport to Bergstrom - Akins was quoted prior to the 1993 stay-or-move vote in an Austin Chronicle report that blasted the city's passenger capacity numbers - somehow proved that Akins "would as soon not build this airport." Todd also implied that the FIS had been approved by the advisory board at its April meeting.

As a taken-aback Shea explained, Akins and his firm, Air Trans, spend about nine-tenths of their time performing marketing analyses for airports trying to attract new passenger traffic. He does not consult for domestic air carriers; the last two carriers that employed him were Lufthansa and Air Jamaica. Akins even spent a good deal of time recently laboring for the Association of Flight Attendants in their strike against American Airlines. So if he's a shill for the big domestic carriers, he's working under extremely deep cover.

"I don't think the mayor understands that my interest is promoting air service to Austin, making Bergstrom the best airport it can be and not wasting money at Mueller," Akins said after watching a video of Todd's attack. "He completely misrepresented my background. If we're going to spend this kind of revenue, it should be based on a sophisticated market analysis, not a reaction to a few phone calls from an Aero Mexico subsidiary. And this expense in no way affects anything at the new airport, schedulewise or budgetwise." Akins argues that because the FIS will only handle 30 passengers at a time, it could not accommodate major charters from Mexico even if there were any.

Councilmember Ronney Reynolds' aviation board appointee Brad Ellis agrees, and says the FIS was not discussed at the board's April meeting. Rather, Ellis remembers, it was recommended at a 1994 meeting after Aviation Director Charles Gates conveyed the impression that it wasn't costing anything (Akins missed that meeting due to a business trip).

Probably the real source of the mayor's wrath lies in the reluctance of the major domestic air carriers to sign on to the Bergstrom project. This is doubtless annoying, but it's standard airline procedure when faced with the expenses of moving their operations. (Continental didn't come to terms with the City of Denver until after the new facility there opened for business.)

The council approved the FIS money 4-3, with Councilmembers Jackie Goodman, Max Nofziger, and Shea voting against. - C.W.

ONION CREEK HIKE AND BIKE TRAIL: At the last two Austin Transportation Study (ATS) meetings, property owners along Onion Creek southeast of Austin vehemently protested the proposed 4.1-mile Moya Hike and Bike Trail that would follow the creek from McKinney Falls State Park to Richard Moya County Park south of Bergstrom. They said that they were not contacted about plans for the project even though their land was involved.

"We call hikers `trespassers' in this area," said Marilyn Dierschke, citing fears that trail users would disturb cattle and commit acts of vandalism. "How dare you walk on our property," Sharon Ross told the ATS. "This land is not urban and we don't want it urban. I don't need the gang problem out there. I'm a City of Austin cop. I know a hell of a lot more about what goes on out there than you; I don't want it in my backyard." Bill Baswell told the ATS that the trail would be flooded four or five times a year, and that the estimated $26,000 right of way costs wouldn't even be sufficient for the claims of a single property owner. Forrest Ward said that on several parts of the proposed trail, he mines crushed aggregate to sell for road beds, and he expects his business to boom when the Bergstrom Airport brings road expansion to the area. Dynamite blasting in the quarries would endanger hikers, he said.

In spite of landowner protests, the ATS unanimously approved inclusion of the trail project in its three-year funding plan on March 13. Representative Glen Maxey added an amendment to explore all options regarding the specific location of the trail, recognizing the needs of landowners to have creek access for their cattle. The
$1 million project would be paid for mostly with federal transportation funds. The project includes rehabilitation of the old Congress Avenue Bridge, originally built in 1884 over Town Lake. A new bridge was finished on Town Lake in 1915, and three of the iron trusses from the old bridge were used to construct a one-lane bridge over Onion Creek in Richard Moya Park. Eventual plans call for connecting the Moya Trail to the Town Lake trail, the Colorado River Trail, Dove Springs Park, and Onion Creek Park. - N.E.

CATO, NOT KATO: Leaders from the Cato Institute, whose members appear regularly on national television espousing a Libertarian take on federal politics, were in town recently for a brief seminar under the theme "Toward an American Renaissance." Featured speakers, including Institute President Ed Crane and Regulatory Studies Director Ed Hudgins, attacked the federal regulatory system with such topics as "Civil Society vs. Political Society" and "Really Ending Welfare as We Know It."

The Institute has captured a few headlines recently for its proposals to cut "corporate welfare" - tax breaks and perks like below-cost timber sales and grazing fees on public lands - to big businesses, estimated to cost taxpayers
$250-300 billion a year. But the seminar's keynote speaker, U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Dallas), had a very different message.

"Really, what we have to do is stop taxing corporations and companies," he told the well-heeled, enthusiastic crowd gathered at Austin's downtown Omni Hotel. "Ladies and gentlemen, it's just begun. Newt Gingrich said that what we've gone through so far is kindergarten compared to what's coming. You can't even dream what this country will look like when we remove these onerous burdens."

The crowd applauded for this and nearly everything else DeLay had to say. The third-ranking member of Congress, DeLay carries considerable weight as Majority Whip and a member of the House Appropriations Committee. A long-time foe of environmental regulations which, he says, hamstrung his pesticide business, DeLay railed against welfare and health regulations. He promised a monthly "Corrections Day" where legislators will bring bills they don't like to the floor to be repealed. "We're going to repeal the last 40 years in a systematic way," he said. "We'll start with less controversial things at the beginning, so people aren't scared to death and throw us out... but we can do anything we want. All they can do is bring out the fear mongering."

If at first DeLay's proposal to eliminate corporate taxes seems at odds with the Cato Institute's plans for doing away with corporate welfare, consider this: What Institute leaders would really like to see, according to their 358-page Congressional handbook released early this year, is a national sales tax set somewhere between 16-18%, to take the place of income taxes. The handbook also recommends eliminating the capital gains tax, selling off about $100 billion worth of federal lands, and a freeze in 1996 spending levels through the fiscal year 2000.

DeLay, whose pet project this session seems to be the gutting of the Clean Air Act (he's got at least seven bills pending in the House), said that the key to success for the Contract With America, as well as the Cato Institute's proposals, is all in the approach. "In the past, Republicans have talked in terms of business and free market. That's been our orientation," he said. "Now, we need to relate everything in terms of the American family and individuals, and how everything we do affects them." - A.B.

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