This winter has been a rough one on the east coast. When snow storms closed airports and shut down commercial air travel for one or two days people didn't know what to do. Life came to a standstill. I hope it makes people think what it would be like if those airports were closed to commercial airlines forever because that's what could happen to some rural Nebraska airports if some in Congress have their way and eliminate the Essential Air Service (EAS) program.
Just because our state has a small population and the airports aren't servicing jumbo jets doesn't mean they are any less important to people who live in rural areas.
As a budget hawk, with a proven record of spending cuts, I continue to look for ways that Congress can tighten its fiscal belt by reducing spending, but it concerns me that with the new-found budget restraint by some in Congress there are proposals to completely eliminate a program that is essential to Nebraska communities.
Without this federal support, many rural airports, including seven in Nebraska, would no longer be able to offer commercial airline service and may be forced to close because they haven't had enough passengers to make a commercial service economically feasible so far.
This is not just a convenience issue for Alliance, Chadron, Grand Island, Kearney, McCook, North Platte and Scottsbluff. This is an economic development issue. Washington politicians need to recognize that small, rural airports are absolutely critical to the success of rural communities. If EAS is ended it would devastate the economies of rural communities it serves and those nearby as well..
I've heard from numerous people in cities that benefit from EAS subsidies who've told me stories about businesses and industries that wanted to locate or expand and one of the first questions they are asked is if the city is served by commercial airlines. These job-creating companies don't want to be located in cities where it takes company representatives several hours to drive to get to their plants.
In a letter several senators and I sent to Senator John McCain, who's proposing the EAS elimination, we point out that as the Nation's economic recovery is starting to gain momentum, it makes little sense to cut off these Americans simply because of where they live. And at a time when jobs are already so hard to come by in our rural communities, it makes even less sense to enact cuts that will only make the problem worse.
Nebraskans have always been more than willing to do our part in any crisis and we'll take our share of cuts but Congress should not try to balance the budget on the backs of rural Americans by completely eliminating programs like EAS.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. When it comes to rural living Washington just doesn't get it. We may be small in numbers but we deserve equal treatment with larger cities and certainly not treatment that will hurt our economy.