Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Some tea party lawmakers worked hard to keep federal subsidies for rural passenger service

"Tea party lawmakers from rural areas were among those fighting the hardest to preserve taxpayer subsidies for airline flights into and out of small towns last year after senior Republicans tried to eliminate the oft-criticized program," reports Andrew Taylor of The Associated Press. "Now, the House Appropriations Committee is awarding the program an 11 percent budget hike. Next year, the subsidies would reach a record $214 million under a bill the GOP-run committee approved Tuesday. The subsidies can reach hundreds of dollars per ticket -- and can exceed $1,000 in a few routes. The Essential Air Service program was established to guarantee that small communities would continue to get commercial air services even though the routes were no longer profitable.

Taylor notes, "The program awards contracts, usually worth between $1 million and $2 million a year, to subsidize airlines that serve airports in such places as Escanaba, Mich., Pueblo, Colo., and Scottsbluff, Neb. Such subsidies work out to as little as $6 per passenger for airports like Cody, Wyo., and Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. But subsidies can often reach hundreds of dollars each way on a round trip flight to and from isolated places like Kalaupapa on the island of Molokai in Hawaii or Great Bend, Kan., whose three or so passengers a day benefited from a subsidy exceeding $600 in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available."

Reps. Rick Berg, R-N.D., and Kristi Noem, R-S.D., were among those who fought to save the program. The subsidies increase approved Tuesday "came as the panel also moved to cut food aid to poor nations overseas and funding for implementing new Wall Street regulations." (Read more)

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