EAS cuts strike at heart of economic development

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Here we go again.

While giving lip service to economic growth, the Washing powers that be are pulling the rug out from under one of the key tools rural communities like McCook use to grow.

The administration proposes to cut Essential Air Service subsidies by more than half, and require local communities to come up with money to continue the air service that can bring new jobs to town.

The proposal would cut EAS from $110 million in 2006 to $50 million in 2007, and require local funding that could price local air service in seven Nebraska cities out of business.

In McCook's case, that would mean $150,000 a year -- no small sum for a city that just built a new water system and elementary school and is considering building a jail.

U.S. Sen Ben Nelson cited Chadron, which would pay $65,000 a year, as an example of how such changes could undermine economic progress.

According to Chadron Mayor Al Vacanti, the city is currently in serious negotiations with a call center operation that could ultimately employ more than 100 full-time employees and help replace jobs recently lost by the closing of another company.

Losing convenient, reliable air service could put those prospects in risk.

"I agree with Mr. Vacanti," Nelson said. "Having an airport located reasonable close is not only a convenience to rural Nebraskans, it is necessary for economic development. For cities to prosper and encourage businesses to locate there and provide jobs for its citizens, it is essential that they offer a full range of transportation services."

How true.

For major population centers, cuts like those proposed in the EAS plan are a drop in the bucket.

For McCook and the six other Nebraska towns, they interrupt the flow of our economic lifeblood.

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