NEWNAN, Ga. — GOP Senate candidate Karen Handel said Saturday that one way to cut the federal budget is to eliminate subsidies to airlines that serve smaller airports like Athens and Macon.

“I have no problem with one-time dollars to help someone get off the ground,” she told the Coweta County Republicans. “But we ought not to be subsidizing up to 90 percent of the routes. We’ve been doing that for 30 years. If we’re subsidizing it to that point, folks, there’s not a market for it. People just need to consider driving.”

Known as the Essential Air Service, the program spends about $220 million annually. It pays part of carriers’ operating costs for serving 163 airports across the country that had commercial flights before airline deregulation in 1978.

In Georgia, that includes $1.6 million to SeaPort Airlines for serving Athens passengers flying to Nashville, Tenn., and $2 million to Silver Airways for serving Macon passengers going to Atlanta or Orlando, according to the Department of Transportation’s latest report.

“It’s hard to make cuts in the budget because one thing we cut, someone else is going to really like,” she said. “But that’s what we’re going to have to do.

Having a $17 trillion debt and being upside down in our budget is unacceptable.”

Other examples she listed included economic-development funding for Morocco, a lighted soccer field for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and duplicate catfish inspection programs. She also called for a two-year budgeting cycle and zero-based budgeting in which every expenditure at each agency is reviewed every 10 years.

Handel, Georgia’s former secretary of state, is running in the Republican primary to succeed Sen. Saxby Chambliss who is retiring. So far, she’s one of eight announced candidates.

One of her rivals, businessman David Perdue, also spoke to the group.

Follow Walter Jones on Twitter @MorrisNews and Facebook at or contact him at and (404) 589-8424.


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