Owens: 'Dissolving essential air service program is misguided'

North Country Congressman Bill Owens says efforts by Republican lawmakers to dissolve the essential air service program are misguided.

The program provides federal subsidies to small, often rural airports nationwide.

The Democrat's congressional district is home to small airports in places like Lake Clear, Plattsburgh, Massena, Ogdensburg, and Watertown.

Owens says Senator John McCain's proposal to dissolve EAS needs to be reconsidered.

"Unfortunately, this seems to be a kind of typical reaction - that is, slashing a program rather than evaluating a program," he said. "Obviously, EAS is critical for Lake Clear and for job creation in that community. Think about the impact on places like Trudeau Institute - what if they can't get people, speakers or researchers, in and out? It could greatly damage these communities."

Owens says that given the nation's fiscal climate, programs like essential air service may need some tweaking.

But overall, he notes that federal subsidies for rural airports have translated to economic success in northern New York.

Just last month, Clinton County officials said it was time to consider a major expansion of the three-year-old Plattsburgh International Airport. That facility opened in June 2007 at the site of the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base - and business has clearly been booming ever since.

In 2008, nearly 44,000 people flew out of the Plattsburgh airport. That number more than doubled in 2010, with more than 95,000 customers utilizing air service to destinations like Florida and South Carolina.

Owens says lawmakers should be looking for ways to save taxpayer dollars - but he says cutting programs without considering their positive impacts is the wrong approach.

"They're looking at slashing and burning, rather than evaluating and making a determination," he said. "Does that mean that some of these programs might not need to be scaled back? No. But there's a huge difference between scaling it back and eliminating it. And that's what we're going to have to look at - we're going to have to go through this process of shared pain. And as we do, people will understand that we need to make accommodations in order to get the deficit and debt under control. But slash and burn is simply irresponsible."

While Owens is steadfastly against McCain's bill, he says that attempts by some lawmakers - including Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller - to significantly expand the essential air service program are also foolish.

"That's the opposite end of irresponsible," he said. "That's doing something that's irresponsible going in the other direction."

Owens says if a program is doing the job it was intended to do, that's fine. But he notes that increasing funding for a program simply to expand its coverage is not the right thing to do.

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