To the voters of Mahaska County,

On Tuesday, June 5, residents of Mahaska County will have a choice to make in the direction of county government with four candidates vying for two slots on the Board of Supervisors. Two candidates represent the status quo as they have been in county government for many, many years. The other two candidates are self-employed businessmen that have been active in their communities, have held leadership roles and are running for office for the first time.

There is a lot of emotion on both sides relating to issues surrounding the proposed regional airport west of Oskaloosa. Due to this emotional nature, I decided to write a note to David Swenson, who is an economist at Iowa State University with work in community economic analysis and providing economic education services to the public. Below is his independent response to me in regards to the economic impact of this airport: 

Mr. Johnson,

I did not do a study of the airport – I was not asked to, nor was I privy to planning data for the airport. My comments were made based on 35 years of work as an economist and having done, literally, hundreds of economic impact studies and other economic studies.

Here is the gist of it all. When the public provides a good like an airport, the proposing entity is obliged to demonstrate that the sum of benefits that accumulate to the region outweigh the costs. The benefits of the airport would be measured primarily by the private sector costs avoided by using this airport as opposed to airports in Ottumwa, Newton or Des Moines for commercial purposes. There is absolutely no evidence that the value of avoided costs (which are private sector benefits) over a reasonable time, say, 20 years, would exceed the sum of public costs in establishing and operating the facility. Accordingly, the benefits would not outweigh the costs.

In those cases, an economist would advise against such a deal as it would not make the region better off in the aggregate. If the project went ahead, then the region would be subsidizing the comparatively few beneficiaries of the airport to the detriment of the region's overall welfare.

It is my understanding that there was not a true cost benefit-cost assessment conducted. If there wasn't, then there is no economic justification for the airport, only a political one. If there was, in fact, a credible benefit costs analysis of the airport (and that is the only legitimate type of analysis to apply to this situation), and the study had found the benefits to outweigh the costs, those findings would have been trumpeted to the high heavens. Absent those trumpets, I stand by my conclusions.

Dave Swenson

Associate Scientist, Department of Economics, Iowa State University.

A change is needed in Mahaska County. Steve Wanders and Steve Parker will be responsible stewards of your tax dollars and will support projects that will add to the region's overall welfare, not those that are a detriment.

Mike Johnson,

Oskaloosa

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