Residents of eight townships in Rock Island County. They are footing the bill for Quad-City International Airport, which, as its name suggests, serves the entire region.
Only a bi-state port authority could right the inequity, should the evidence support it.
It would take a crank to argue the airport doesn't serve a wider area, including metropolitan centers in Illinois and Iowa. It would be downright false to say the airport's economic impact stops at the borders of Moline. Yet, only a tiny sliver of those benefiting from easy access to the jetway are pitching in.
As a result, the small fraction of taxpayers supporting the airport might soon be asked to kick in even more, airport officials announced earlier this month. The airport has, for years, declined to levy taxes for Social Security or retirement costs, a common practice throughout most municipal bodies. All the while, slumping revenue has thrown the airport's balance sheet out of whack. It would be naive to forget about the pricey infrastructural needs of operating an airport that accepts regional jet traffic.
Members of the Rock Island County Metropolitan Airport Authority naturally wondered if the airport's taxing authority should instead be extended to include all of Rock Island, Henry and Mercer counties. Such a move makes sense. The airport is, after all, a regional entity that bolsters a regional economy.
But a geographical expansion of the taxing district should be merely a short-term fix.
Those working toward economic development champion the Quad-Cities as a monolithic business environment, in spite of its bi-state reality. They are right. But sincere regionalism is more than a motto.
Surely, business executives in Bettendorf rely on the airport. There's little doubt that Davenport sees an economic benefit from the airport's existence. And that's why the entire Quad-Cities metropolitan area should be footing the bill for Quad-City International Airport.
As it stands, significant research is needed before undertaking the hefty political lift to get Iowa, Illinois and Congress on board with the creation of a port authority. The idea was batted around decades ago only to die at the altar of parochialism.
Airport officials have general economic impact data. But more specific information about its usage and effect on individual communities must first be understood. What's now available is anecdotal at best and, at worst, skewed. For instance, counting the number of Iowa license plates parked at the airport only proves that Iowans are more likely to drive themselves instead of catching a taxi. It speaks little to actual use.
The necessary research is something the airport authority should immediately get under way. Once compiled, the information could, should it turn out as expected, make a strong, fact-based case for regional funding.
Then it's about lobbying. Lobby the townships in Illinois excluded from the taxing district. Lobby the cities in Iowa that most benefit from the airport's existence. Point out to Davenport that its small municipal airport is in no way on the same level as Quad-Cities International. Point out that, under a port authority, the entire region would have a say in airport operations.
A lot has changed since the last bid to create a port authority crashed and burned. The various chambers of commerce have fused into a regional one. Local governments have adopted a no-poaching rule when businesses start eyeing potential investment. The mayors and staffs from each city hall meet regularly and chart out a Quad-Cities-wide vision based on each city's strengths and weaknesses.
Quad-City International Airport is a strength, and not just for eight townships in Rock Island County. It's probably a resource for which everyone should be paying.