By Gretchen Schuldt for   Published Jan 10, 2006 at 5:11 AM

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, its advertisers or editorial staff.

State Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, and State Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, clearly are running against the city of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee County Board with their one-wing-short-of-a-whole-plane plan to turn over control of Mitchell International Airport to a regional airport authority.

Their proposal, as County Supervisor Richard Nyklewicz said, "is really not a fair, equitable way to proceed."

In this case, "fair" and "equitable" are being crushed by "politics" and "pandering."

It looks like Stone is trying to suck up to the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce crowd in an effort to win support for what some say is a future race for county executive. The MMAC supports establishing an airport authority, although it has not come out in favor of stealing county property.

Plale, who is not a Republican but frequently imitates one when he votes, clearly is trying to court suburban conservatives in his district. His likely challenger in the Democratic primary, Donovan Riley, will have greater appeal to moderate and liberal voters. Plale's embrace of this wildly bad idea shows he is ready to write off Milwaukee totally, including the more conservative south side of the city most likely to support him. This proposal sends an unmistakable middle finger salute to his city constituents.

State Rep. Mark Honadel, R-South Milwaukee, who also is backing the takeover, thus far seems to be more passenger than co-pilot on this flight of twisted fancy.

The basic plan that Stone, Plale and Honadel are advocating calls for Mitchell and Timmerman fields to be handed to a seven-member regional airport authority. Four of the seven members would be appointed by the governor from Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee, Washington, Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties. Three members would be from Milwaukee County and appointed by the county executive. Milwaukee, where the airport actually is, would not be guaranteed a seat on the authority, although southern suburbs near the airport would be assured of at least two seats.

Mitchell International is absolutely an economic benefit to the region. It can also, however, be a bit of a pain to those living next to it. The incredible noise, the incredible smells and the very toxic waste that airports and their airline tenants emit are of most immediate concern to the most immediate neighbors. The sponsors seem intent on separating these people from any real political representation when it comes to airport issues. Mitchell neighbors, under the plan, won't be able to call their county supervisors for help; instead, they will be able to call only unelected officials from some other community or county who can't be held accountable at the ballot box. (Stone and Plale, when questioned about the skewed composition of the authority, said they would consider adding a single Milwaukee member.)

Establishing this authority would be government excess and high-handedness at their very worst. Plale, Stone (and Honadel) want to simply grab the airport from the county without offering anywhere near the billions that it is worth.

If legislators can do this, what will they want to steal next? Will they say the County Grounds are just too valuable for the county to be allowed to possess? Will they grab county parks and sell them off to the highest bidder?

It takes enormous arrogance for this trio to propose this now, as the state continues to shirk its final obligations to the county.

"If they want to help the county, start paying for courts, start paying for human services," said Nyklewicz, whose district includes the airport. Some help finding transit funding would be appreciated, too, he said.

Have the dynamic duo (or terrific trio, if you want to count Honadel) even thought this out beyond a press conference? Will the proposed authority retain the unfunded health care and pension liabilities of county workers who now work at the airport?

Those obligations, now on the airport's books, are huge.

"I would say it's in the millions," said Nyklewicz, chairman of the county board's finance committee.

Have these guys done basic due diligence? May we see the results, please? What happens if one or two more airlines sink? Will the state pick up the pieces, or will the airport suddenly revert to the county?

Fitch Ratings, in assigning an A+ rating to an airport bond issue, said recently that credit concerns at Mitchell include the finances of Northwest Airlines and Midwest Airlines, both airport tenants.

On the plus side, the agency said, the county-operated airport showed "consistently sound financial operations and competitive cost structure" as well as minimal capital needs and a moderate debt burden.

There doesn't seem to be much that needs fixing.

There are probably good ideas out there for improving airport operations. The Stone-Plale-Honadel grand theft airport plan isn't one of them.

- Gretchen Schuldt, a former Milwaukee newspaper reporter, runs the Milwaukee Web site

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