Trump budget cuts funding for Arkansas’ rural airports, UAMS research dollars, agri support

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 4,172 views 

Hangar at the Hot Springs Municipal Airport.

Airline service in four of Arkansas’ faster-growing cities would be eliminated under President Donald Trump’s budget cuts to the Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service program, a program created nearly 40 years ago that subsidizes air service for rural communities across that U.S. that are located more than 210 miles from the nearly airport hub.

Trump administration officials said the program is no longer needed because several EAS-eligible communities are close to major airports, and communities that have EAS could be served by other existing modes of transportation. Eliminating EAS from the federal budget would result in annual savings of $175 million.

“EAS flights are not full and have high subsidy costs per passenger,” said Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Airports in Harrison, Jonesboro, Hot Springs and El Dorado/Camden are all EAS communities and together are projected to receive nearly $10 million through early 2019 from the program, which caps the federal subsidy at $200 per passenger. The Harrison, Hot Springs and El Dorado/Camden airports operate two daily nonstop, round-trip flights on a nine-passenger, single-engine plane to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The Jonesboro Municipal Airport has essentially the same schedule, but flies into the St. Louis International Airport.

Glen Barentine, airport director for the city of Hot Springs, said the EAS program plays a critical role in the continued growth of a cities and communities that have the service, and provides the funding that attracts significant private investment.

“Airline service is vital at the state and local levels by providing funding for public services and continued economic development,” Barentine said. “(It) encourages businesses to expand outside urban centers and gives residents quick access to larger airline hubs. … EAS airports play an important role in our local economy and give citizens better access to the global marketplace. Communities without air services are less likely to attract or retain businesses.”

Beginning March 22, Memphis-based Southern Airways Express LLC will begin flying two daily nonstop, round-trip flights from Hot Springs to Dallas under a $2.3 million DOT contract.

Dozens of other Arkansas local and state agencies, organizations and nonprofits will be indirectly affected by budget cuts at larger federal agencies, including the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

For example, HHS’s budget will fall to $69 billion, a $15.1 billion or 17.9% decrease from the 2017 levels. That budget reduces the National Institutes of Health’s program spending by $5.8 billion to $25.9 billion. In the past year, millions of dollars in NIH funding has filtered down to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, including a $41.8 million award for the state’s only academic health system to oversee a 17-site pediatric clinical trial network.

UAMS is part of operates the Data Coordinating and Operations Center (DCOC) for the IDeA States Pediatric Clinical Trial Network (ISPCTN), part of the NIH’s national seven-year, $157 million initiative to provide medically underserved and rural children access to clinical studies.

At the USDA, the Trump administration’s budget request for 2018 will decline by 21% or $4.7 billion to $17.9 billion. That will reduce spending for the National Forest System’s land acquisition program and eliminates $498 million from the agency’s water and wastewater loan and grant program. It also will reduce staffing and county office operations at USDA’s service centers nationwide. Arkansas has more than 30 USDA service centers across the state.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities are also on the list of federal organizations that would lose funding under the proposed budget. All three groups are frequent targets for funding cuts by conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation credited with influencing the Trump budget.

Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), made the following statement regarding the President’s proposed elimination of federal funding for public media: “There is no viable substitute for federal funding that ensures Americans have universal access to public media’s educational and informational programming and services. The elimination of federal funding to CPB would initially devastate and ultimately destroy public media’s role in early childhood education, public safety, connecting citizens to our history, and promoting civil discussions – all for Americans in both rural and urban communities.”

At the ending of 2016, CPB had total revenue of $510.4 million. About $485 million of that total came from federal appropriations, most for television program and related services. In its most recent annual report from 2014, CPB provided $2.3 million in funding for public media in Arkansas. The Arkansas Education Television Network received the lion’s share of that allocation of about $1.95 million. Public radio stations, KUAR, KUAF and KASU in Little Rock, Fayetteville and Jonesboro, respectively, split the remainder.

But it was the EPA, Department of State and several science agencies that took the biggest hits in their annual budget. At the EPA, Trump is asking for only $5.7 billion, a reduction of $2.6 billion, or 31%. That budget, administration officials said, would result in the elimination of nearly 3,200 positions at the agency now headed by former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

Notably, the EPA budget discontinues funding for the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of former President Barack Obama’s climate change program to cut carbon dioxide emissions that is now awaiting a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The defunding of the program will save the EPA nearly $100 million in annual savings, administration officials said.

At State Department, led by former ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson, President Trump’s budget requests includes $25.6 billion in base funding for the department and USAID, representing a $10.1 billion or 28% reduction from a year ago.

“Additional steps will be taken to make the Department and USAID leaner, more efficient, and more effective,” Trump said. “These steps to reduce foreign assistance free up funding for critical priorities here at home and put America first.”

Funding cuts would hit the research arms of the EPA, Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Science Foundation, causing consternation in the science community.

“President Trump’s proposed budget, if enacted, would be a step backward for scientific progress, jeopardize the U.S.’s role as a leader in innovation, and harm the American public,” said Christine McEntee, executive director and CEO of the American Geophysical Union. “These agencies provide research and data that are critical in informing and shaping decisions that protect public health and safety, support national security, and facilitate economic stability and job growth in the US.”

In explaining the president’s budget during a press conference on Wednesday, Mulvaney said the president’s “hard-power” budget was done intentionally to send a clear message to rest of the world.

“The President very clearly wants to send a message to our allies and our potential adversaries that this is a strong power administration. So you have seen money move from soft-power programs, such as foreign aid, into more hard-power programs,” said the OMB director.  “That’s what our allies can expect, that’s what our adversaries can expect, that’s what the President wanted us to relay.  And I think we’ve done an effective job of that.”