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Dr. Kevin Cahill

Local economist has a lot of questions about proposed F-35 mission

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Dr. Kevin Cahill is a preeminent economist. His work on labor and health economics has been published on multiple occasions, and he has been expert witness in legal proceedings involving antitrust litigation and the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. As managing director of the Boise office for Portland, Oregon-based ECONorthwest, Cahill's clients include the City of Boise, which turned to him for help in crafting the Boise Competes project, which aligns public and private entities to help churn the city's economic engine.

Cahill is well known for his no-holds-barred opinions on the effort by the City of Boise to land a much-touted F-35 mission at Gowen Field. Cahill says a study the city has often used to promote the F-35 project is misleading, at best.

Why did you and your wife relocate to Boise?

We lived in Boston for 20 years. Then we had children—holy cow. [Boston] went from being the greatest place to live for somebody in their 20s to an extremely stressful place to live. We had visited here before and one day we turned to one another and said, "Let's make the jump. We're going to raise our kids in Idaho."

Give me a snapshot of your work.

I'm affiliated with Boston College, and I do work for them, but primarily, I run the Boise office for ECONorthwest. Through my company, we linked up with the City of Boise in 2012. I put together a proposal for them on the Boise Competes Project. I think we did some good work for the city.

Have you done other projects for the City of Boise?

Not since I spoke out about the F-35.

Walk me back to when the push for the F-35 first came onto your radar.

A few people approached me and said, 'There's an Idaho Air National Guard Economic Impact Study. You're an economist. Can you take a look? It just doesn't seem to make much sense.' So, I looked at the study. It was just so bad.

For the record, that study insisted that the F-35 mission would [sustain the Idaho Air National Guard's existing] economic benefits to the Boise area, including 2,800 direct- and indirect jobs and a contribution of more than $155 million to the local economy.

But that's incredibly misleading. The study included the benefits but none of the costs to the community. It doesn't account for any negative impacts.

I think I know the answer to this, but why wouldn't the study include any negative impacts [that might come with the introduction of the F-35's?]

There's only one reason why: They didn't ask the questions because they're afraid of the answers.

But these are not stupid people.

They're very smart people. There's a sizeable chance if they run the numbers of the F-35, they're going to end up with a net-negative impact. As proponents of the F-35, that would be the last thing they would want.

Let's talk about an op-ed you wrote for the Idaho Statesman in May of this year. You ripped into the study, and you received quite a bit of pushback from the its authors.

But it's rather stunning in that they said they were never even asked to look at the costs for their study. They only looked at the benefits. That's sad. Their benefits included hundreds and hundreds of pages, and the costs could have easily been done in a couple of pages. The economics are as clear as day. I think when their initial analysis came out, they weren't banking on a trained economist looking at it. Because otherwise, they wouldn't have done it. It's embarrassing.

I know your own analysis was pro-bono and not affiliated with your employer, but what does ECONorthwest think about all of this?

My employer isn't out for the quick dollar. Yes, we're objective and yes, we might lose business because of that objectivity. Sometimes you have to be the skunk at the picnic. I think, for sure in this particular case, I'm the skunk at the picnic.


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