March 21, 2022
During the March 17, 2022, regularly scheduled Pocatello City Council meeting, the Council voted 5-1 to approve spending up to $800,000 of taxpayer money to subsidize SkyWest’s one flight a day from Pocatello to Salt Lake City. Council Member Claudia Ortega stood alone in opposing the use of taxpayer funds to subsidize this corporation.
While other council members talked about concerns over losing “federal grant money,” Ortega began her remarks by pointing out that, “…federal grant money, is tax money. Because the federal government, just like the city government, just like the county government, has no money in and of its own, it all comes from us.”
Ortega then set out her concerns with the proposal, saying, “I have a real problem with our city basically subsidizing a for-profit business.” She continued, “The airline industry has been in trouble for decades.” She said that in spite of repeated bailouts, airlines have not changed their business model. Ortega also noted that there is no reason to change their model if they are going to be able to rely on taxpayer bailouts when they fail.
“Secondly,” Ortega said, “we live in a community where 40% of our residents are living paycheck to paycheck. Many with even less than that. Many are just struggling to survive. Inflation is getting all of us. Groceries cost more, diapers cost more, gasoline obviously costs more, everything literally costs more.”
“So, it’s hard for me to ask the poorest members of our community to pony up their hard-earned tax dollars to subsidize a for-profit corporation.”
Ortega explained the one-sided nature of the deal that her colleagues were preparing to approve. “This is a great deal for SkyWest. It’s just not such a great deal for the city. The city gets no guarantees of anything.” She went on to say, “We have no guarantees with SkyWest on this. They apparently won’t even discuss giving us a more viable flight time. 1:00 p.m. is not a business travel flight time. You can’t get to the East Coast if you leave Pocatello at 1:00 p.m.” Continuing on this theme, she said, “They’re not working with us, they’re just giving us an ultimatum. This isn’t a deal, it’s an ultimatum. Because a deal where only one side wins is not a deal.”
Continuing to argue her point, Ortega said, “[If I had it] I would not give $800,000 of my own money for nothing in return.”
Despite her clear arguments in favor of the overburdened taxpayer, the Council, except for her, voted in favor of the subsidy proposal.
You can see the full meeting of the City Council at which the proposal was discussed by clicking on the image, below. Ortega’s remarks begin at 1:38:12 on the video.