Alaska Will Keep Flight Subsidies

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington
The Essential Air Service Program that subsidizes flights to rural Alaska is safe – for now. Arizona Senator John McCain’s attempt to kill the program’s funding died in the Senate today. McCain’s amendment was tabled on a vote of 61 to 38.

He targeted the program as a way to save money, even though it would’ve meant losing funds for airports in his home state. The Essential Air Service program, or EAS, cost $200 million dollars last year and helped pay for airport service in about 150 communities throughout the country.

Alaska’s Congressional delegation has been fighting McCain because $12.5 million dollars of that went to 44 Alaskan communities.

McCain spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday and marveled at the reaction, especially of the Alaskan senators.

Senator Lisa Murkowski made her own comments on the Senate floor this week, and said she couldn’t weigh-in on what losing EAS would do to Lower 48 states like McCain’s, but that it could destabilize Alaskan communities.

Both Senator Murkowski and Democratic Senator Mark Begich showed their colleagues posters of Alaska and its vast size and limited road system. Begich in his floor speech warned losing ESA would put Alaskans out of work and isolate already distant villages.

McCain, however, says if Alaska feels that strongly, it should pay for the program itself. He pointed to a recent editorial by former Alaskan state legislator Andrew Halcro.

McCain criticized members of Congress who would vote down his amendment, saying it’s time to tackle the ballooning federal debt.

McCain floated his amendment as part of the Federal Aviation Administration re-authorization. Even though his attempt to kill the program stalled out, EAS isn’t necessarily safe. It will still be scrutinized as members of Congress look for ways to shave spending.

The President’s new proposed budget funds it at only slightly lower levels than last year. Over in the House, Congressman Don Young successfully got a provision through committee Wednesday continuing EAS only in Alaska and Hawaii while eliminating it in all other states.

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