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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Service up in air with cuts

Kevin Landrigan

Federal funding cuts puts in peril scheduled air service to 105 airports across the U.S., including Lebanon.

A reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration cuts $4 billion over four years and would end the Essential Air Service Program by 2014.

Getting rid of the EAS would save $400 million but the subsidy is widely seen as propping up many commuter flights to smaller airports.

“The EAS program is critical to the success of the airport and to the Upper Valley region,” Rick Dyment, manager of the airport, told the New Hampshire Business Review.

Lebanon is the only airport in the state other than Manchester-Boston Regional Airport that has regularly scheduled service.

Cape Air offers four round-trip flights each day to Logan Airport in Boston and two round trips daily to White Plains, N.Y., with included ground service to Manhattan.

Airport officials said without the EAS funding of $2.2 million, Cape Air would find it no longer feasible to maintain service, or it would reduce flights significantly or increase ticket prices, Dyment said.

Lebanon draws New Hampshire and Vermont passengers from as far north as the Canadian border, south to Claremont and Keene, west to Woodstock in Vermont and east to the Lake Sunapee area.

Congressmen Charles Bass and Frank Guinta, R-N.H., approved the budget-cutting bill.

A Bass spokesman said in a statement that Bass hasn’t given up fighting to restore the EAS program, however.

“Congressman Bass recognizes the impact that the Essential Air Service program has on the Lebanon Airport and other rural communities,’’ Bass communications director Stephanie DuBois said.

“This is an ongoing issue, and he will be working with the chairman and ranking member of the House Transportation Committee to preserve the EAS program during conference negotiations on the FAA Reauthorization Act.”

Bass also signed onto a bipartisan letter with 25 other House members last week encouraging the EAS program to be preserved.

Guinta’s office declined comment on the issue.

Windfall up in smoke

The anti-tobacco lobby fought back with a study from Dover economist Brian Gottlob that challenged the view that cutting the tax on cigarettes by 10 cents a pack would lead to a windfall in state revenue.

Gottlob concluded that cigarette sales would increase 1.6 percent in response to the decline, but that still would mean a loss of $9 million in tobacco taxes.

The New Hampshire Retail Grocers group lobbying for the House-passed tax cut had paid for its own economic analysis from professors at Southern New Hampshire University.

Their study had found that sales would increase by 11.4 percent, which would generate more than $10 million more in sales.

Gottlob was skeptical.

“Their results predict extraordinary changes in cigarette sales that are demonstrably implausible and unrealistic by historic standards in New Hampshire or any state in the nation,’’ Gottlob said.

The kind of increase grocers are claiming would be the third-highest the state has seen in the last 30 years and run counter to recent history. Sales in New Hampshire haven’t declined significantly despite four cigarette tax increases under Gov. John Lynch, Gottlob said.

The first step

We must be getting close to the real kickoff of the 2012 presidential primary season, because it’s suddenly easier to get multiple candidates to attend an event.

There are back-to-back forums later this month, and Corey Lewandowski, of Americans For Prosperity, wins the go-getter award for landing five Republicans for his summit on jobs and the economy on April 30 at the Executive Court in Manchester.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachman became the last one to confirm early last week. She’ll join former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and businessman Herman Cain.

“This took me four months to put together, but it was worth it,” Lewandowski said. “This should really offer people a good exchange of views, because we will have job perspectives from those who have been in Congress, served in statehouses and were in private business.”

Prior to the 8 p.m. forum, the group will honor 2010 Senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne as its conservative of the year.

A day earlier, We The People President Jennifer Horn will host a First in the Nation Freedom Forum with at least three potential candidates: Pawlenty, Bachmann and Santorum.

“It is incredibly important that we choose a president who embraces the founding principles of freedom, limited government, personal responsibility and unlimited opportunity,’’ Horn said in a statement.

“This will be an exciting, dynamic program that will allow the voters of New Hampshire to begin the process of evaluating their candidates against that standard.”

Also taking part in the event will be South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and Congressman Steven King.

The event will run from 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester.

Pawlenty will speak to the Nashua City GOP at its monthly meeting on Thursday night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. He’ll also appear at the taxpayer rally in Concord on Friday.

Pulling on the reins

At week’s end, House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, did his level best to try to corral his overly aggressive pups in the House Republican Caucus in the wake of the dustup between House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt and Roman Catholic Bishop John McCormack.

By any measure, last week was rocky for House GOP leaders, as the anti-McCormack rhetoric got so over the top that party elders such as GOP Chairman Jack Kimball had to step in to get people focused on the real job at hand in Concord: balancing the state budget and promoting a healthy economy.

On Wednesday afternoon, O’Brien sent this e-mail to GOP caucus members under the subject “Comments on Current Tone”:

“Recent comments are distracting from all of our legislative accomplishments. Please, no more e-mails, comments, interviews, discussions or any of the like concerning the Catholic Church, priests, church scandals, etc.,’’ O’Brien wrote.

“If you feel you must make a comment, contact me first.’’

O’Brien left his cell phone for members to call him before they spout off.

Bettencourt and McCormack met Thursday, with both sides agreeing there would be no public comment.

The bad timing for the House GOP was that this controversy emerged the week after legislative crossover, when there wasn’t enough other news for the media to pay attention to.

O’Brien vainly tried at midweek to get his gang back on track with the House GOP’s fourth press conference touting its majority party agenda.

As you might expect, this generated little news coverage, because it contained no new news.

Taking shots at Bass

Bass got it from both ends of the political spectrum last week.

From the left, Emily’s List announced that Bass is on its list of the top five House GOP members the group seeks to defeat.

Meanwhile, the conservative Family Research Council has launched a set of radio ads in only eight House GOP districts in the country. They targeted Bass and the other House Republicans who had voted against terminating federal grants to Planned Parenthood.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or