Budget proposal would further isolate rural communities

Proposed budget would limit rural transportation options.

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (KSNW) – President Trump’s proposed budget calls for massive cuts to infrastructure subsidies that would hit rural parts of the state the hardest.

“Without that subsidy,” said Rachel Powell, Garden City’s Director of Aviation, “we would be looking at, worst case scenario, no service.”

The president’s current budget proposal would eliminate the Essential Air Service, which officials say is vital to southwest Kansas’s growth.

“The Essential Air Service program was designed to provide commercial service to small airports like Garden City Regional Airport,” said Powell, “with the intent to subsidize the flights until the community could fully support being self-sufficient with the airline.”

Five years ago, this airport received $3.2 million per year in subsidies. Today, that number has dropped to less than $1 million because of the increased number of passengers.

Powell says the airport is on track to be off the subsidy completely in about two to four years.

The president’s budget would also eliminate subsidies for Amtrak, including the Southwest Chief line, which stops in Garden City.

“The longer distance trains that connect the rural areas to the urban areas are the ones most heavily subsidized,” said Garden City Manager Matt Allen.

In 2015, the TIGER grant awarded the Southwest Chief $15 million to repair part of the track. That grant is also on the chopping block in the budget.

“Garden City is a bit isolated,” said Allen, “and so transportation alternatives play an important role in our connectivity to the rest of the country.”

County officials say losing transportation options would make it harder to attract economic boosters like tournaments and conventions.

“Taking away that ease of access is definitely going to affect us economically,” said Roxanne Morgan with Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau, “which would turn into economic depression, also, for our businesses.”

Allen says residents should keep an eye on the issue, but he’s optimistic that the final budget will look very different than the current proposal.