Witchita Air Subsidies May Take Off

State airfare subsidies for Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport cleared their first hurdle Wednesday, winning approval from the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

State help in keeping low-fare carrier AirTran Airways in Wichita is a top legislative priority for city, county and business leaders in the Wichita area this year. The city has paid the biggest portion of the bill since the subsidized fares were initiated in 2002. Sedgwick County agreed to contribute for the first time last year, but so far no county money has gone to AirTran.

Proponents say the benefit of low fares is a state issue because the airport attracts passengers from two-thirds of Kansas.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, agrees, saying that in the past, many people from his area of southwest Kansas drove to Amarillo, Texas, to board flights.

"I don't want to see any more of our dollars going to Texas. I want them going to Kansas, to Wichita," he said.

And Sen. Ruth Teichman, R-Stafford, said she was aware of at least one business that considered locating in central Kansas in the past but went elsewhere because of the cost of flying out of Wichita.

"I look at this as good economic development for rural Kansas," she said.

Sen. Chris Steineger, D-Kansas City, was the lone dissenter on the committee, questioning whether supporters can prove that the low-cost fares have saved passengers $300 million.

"There's nothing that documents all these claims," he said.

Wichita Eagle

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