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Thursday, July 26, 2012

No Brainer


A view of the Coast Guard Station on
 the west side of Block Island. (photo by Bob Plain)
Both the biggest and smallest newspapers in Rhode Island weighed in last week on whether or not the federal government should subsidize private sector flights to Block Island. Interestingly, it was New Shoreham’s paper of record – not the state’s – that thought to make an economic argument on behalf of Rhode Island.
“And why, more than anything else, is RIAC sponsoring Cape Air, a company that started in Massachusetts and now flies all over the globe, over homegrown New England Airlines?,” asked the Block Island Times editorial (reprinted in the ProJo, I should note). 


It goes on:

Why not give the $900,000 in federal funds, and another $250,000 in state support, to our homestate company, instead? Why not encourage the local airline to fly high? The jobs and money this service would bring should stay with a Rhode Island company.
The New England Airlines crew already know how to handle the tricky island landing strip, already know how to service the Islander airplanes that Cape Air would have to buy to fly here. And they’re here for us, year round, when we’re sick, when we need medications, when the ferry’s not running, when time is of the essence, and when we simply want some Chinese food flown over. They’re a lifeline service, and we need them.
The Projo, on the other hand, makes no economic argument at all. Instead – and I’m not making this up – they say spending $900,000 federal transportation dollars to help a private company succeed in the local marketplace is a good idea because the elite will probably appreciate a way to avoid the “colorful” people who take the ferry.
Seriously, this is their argument. You can read it for yourself here. Or just trust this excerpt as the gist of it:

We suspect that those who fly to Block Island will be considerably less overtly colorful than those on the Block Island Ferry. Indeed, that’s one reason the proposal for service to Block Island from Green sounds so appealing to some folks, especially to the affluent who can afford it. [The] focus was less on locals than on out-of-staters, even if leveraged-buyout specialists planning to build gigantic summer houses might rival people behaving badly on the ferry as threats to Block Island’s allure.
Where to begin with this one…
First, given what has been going on in Rhode Island as of late, the Providence Journal editorial board might want to be more reticent in advocating for the public sector to pick winners in the private sector. Secondly, there are literally at least 900,000 better ways Rhode Island could use $900,000 in transportation dollars than by subsidizing air travel to Block Island.
But the truly abhorrent angle of the Projo’s piece is that the typically-conservative editorial board is actually advocating for economic redistribution – a force it often claims to disdain. The difference is in this case wealth would be being transferred to the elite, rather than the middle class.
While $900,000 in federal transportation dollars might not seem like a lot and few may care how easy or hard it is for the affluent to get to their vacation locale, the difference in these two editorials is worth noting for when the Projo eventually weighs in on an issue that matters to you … how much can we trust their opinion if the tiny little Block Island Times was able to out-think the editorial board of the mighty Providence Journal when it comes to a no-brainer for local business like this issue.
Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.