Missoula airport anxious as Congress marches toward another government shutdown

Last year’s government shutdown had impacts on passengers, employees and construction plans at Missoula International Airport. Airport officials hope Congress can work out its differences and fund the government through the entire fiscal year. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

Calling it eerily similar to last year, Missoula International Airport is again watching closely as Congress struggles to fund the federal government for a full fiscal year, putting the airport’s $67 million terminal project in a pinch.

President Donald Trump signed a temporary spending bill earlier this month, funding the government through Dec. 20. That could give Congress time to work out its differences before the federal government closes for the second time in as many years.

“Right now we’re operating under another a continuing resolution. It’s eerily similar to last year,” said Brian Ellestad, deputy director of the Missoula International Airport.

“Last year at this time, over Christmas, is when government shut down. So hopefully, over the next three weeks, they can work something out and continue us into next fiscal year.”

The airport is in the midst of building a $67 million passenger terminal, and it relies in part on federal grants to cash flow the project.

But with the government only funded through Dec. 20, and uncertainty looming over what happens next, it could force the airport to borrow until government is fully funded though the new fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30, 2020.

The continuing resolution delays grants the airport would otherwise receive in a timely manner.

“If they would fund federal government through the 30th, like they historically did, we could get our $2.5 million now,” said Ellestad. “We can go out and get a grant now, but we only get 30 days of $2.5 million, so it’s really not enough money to do anything with. You might as well keep waiting until you get the full amount to start a project. We have to cash flow.”

Last year during the government shutdown, federal employees either worked for free or didn’t work at all. The Transportation Security Administration, vital to national security, worked throughout the closure without pay.

Ellestad hopes it doesn’t happen again.

“It also effects those employed by the federal government, including TSA,” Ellestad said. “Last year they worked without pay. We hope it doesn’t get to that again.”