Trump budget could end subsidies for rural air service

By Joan Lowy

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump called Thursday for eliminating subsidized air service to rural communities, many of which supported his election last year after he promised to create jobs.

Trump’s proposal, part of his budget plan, would sever an economic lifeline that enables rural communities to attract and keep businesses and jobs, officials in those communities said.

The program has long been a target of conservatives who say the subsidies are too expensive for the relatively small number of passengers served. Elimination of the program would save about $175 million a year, according to the Trump administration.

“We do appreciate running government as efficiently as possible, those are our values … (but) I would argue that this program is vital for rural America,” said Laurie Gill, the Republican mayor of Pierre, South Dakota.

Trump’s budget proposal cuts many domestic programs as the administration looks for money to increase the military, border control and veterans services while not expanding the deficit. The proposal is an early step in a lengthy budget process and it’s not clear to what degree Congress will back his priorities.

The Essential Air Service program subsidizes airline flights to 111 communities in the 48 contiguous states that would otherwise have no scheduled service and which are at least 210 miles from the nearest hub airport, according to the Transportation Department. Via Air operates out of Wood County’s airport through an Essential Air Service grant.

Trump got more than 50 percent of the vote in 86 of those communities, according to an Associated Press analysis of voting data.

About 60 communities in the deep-red state of Alaska also receive subsidized service.

Without the subsidies, airlines would no longer service their communities, local officials said.