(WGEM) - Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin warns that Quincy Regional Airport could face a reduction in funding under sequestration.
Durbin said cuts to subsidized flights in Quincy, Decatur and Marion could eventually be felt as sequestration lingers on.
"Within two weeks, we will announce cutbacks in air service in Illinois. Some Downstate airports may be forced to close," Durbin said on WGEM News/Talk 105 via the Illinois Radio Network.
The cuts would first hit airports like Decatur and Marion that operate with towers, with non-tower airports like Quincy possibly seeing cuts months down the road, according to Durbin spokesperson Christina Mulka.
Flights to Quincy, Decatur and Marion are subsidized to the tune of $7 million annually under the Essential Air Service program. Close to $2 million of that pot goes to support Cape Air service between Quincy and St. Louis over the next four years. (Click here for funding details. http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=DOT-OST-2003-14492-0051)
"Essential Air Service will be impacted by sequestration," Mulka said. "We don't expect Quincy to be impacted immediately, but the Senator is concerned about what could happen over time. We just don't know when or how much Essential Air Service could be impacted."
Quincy Regional Airport Interim Director Jeff Steinkamp said Thursday afternoon that he was caught off-guard by Durbin's comments. Steinkamp later met with Mayor John Spring, who made contact with Durbin's office.
"We don't have a tower, so that's a positive," Spring said. "I'm not immediately concerned, but I am concerned about sequestration. It could impact federal programs."
Quincy city leaders have long said air service to and from the Gem City was essential to the health of the local economy. Durbin agreed and said cuts could be devastating.
"That will have a direct impact on the economy of Downstate, and people will finally say, ‘So that's what sequestration is all about,'" Durbin said.
Andrew Bonney, Cape Air's Vice President of Planning, said his airline's significance to the Tri-States' economy is a big reason why he thinks Quincy Regional Airport has a strong case to keep its federal funding.
"The Department of Transportation considers Quincy a real success story," Bonney said. "We're proud of the service and the Department of Transportation is happy with it, too."
Sequestration will cut $85 billion in federal spending this year, and $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Half must come from domestic discretionary programs, and half from the military. (See "Sequester Q&A: For US, a new season of uncertainty")
Durbin suggests cuts that are easier to make than the indiscriminate cuts required under sequestration include: direct support payments to farmers, worth $5 billion per year, and a $32 billion subsidy, in the way of government-backed student loans and grants, to for-profit schools.
(The Illinois Radio Network and the Associated Press contributed to this story.)
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