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A colorful graph paints a pretty picture— the Alaska Permanent Fund did well in fiscal 2015. Not so much this year to date.

The Alaska Marine Highway System is a critically important piece of infrastructure that links Southeast Alaska communities, funnels visitors looking to spend their hard-earned dollars into Alaska, and generates hundreds and hundreds of jobs inside the state.

Kenneth Ray Book, 92, died Jan. 30, 2016, in Beaverton, Oregon.
Lawrence Harris Milton, 79, died Jan. 5, 2016, in Ketchikan.
MaryEllen Haseltine, 91, died Jan. 239, 2016, in Ketchikan.
It's essential, OK

Essential Air Service is just that.

Not only Ketchikan, but all of the Southeast region and many points throughout the state reap the benefit of the federal program. Without it, such communities as Wrangell and Petersburg might not receive daily airline service.

This greatly would affect the fishing community of Petersburg, which exports seafood throughout the summer.

It also would affect commerce in Wrangell and the business and leisure traffic between those communities, as well as others, provided by Ketchikan and the surrounding area.

Congressman Don Young spent the week debating the FY14 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill with his colleagues. Included in the bill will be Young's amendment to protect the air service program in Alaska and Hawaii.

The program was established in the late 1970s in conjunction with the Airline Deregulation Act. Deregulation gave airlines the flexibility to determine their markets and fares to communities within those markets. Before then the law required them to provide scheduled service into smaller communities as well as the large lucrative ones.

The program was devised as a way to subsidize airlines for providing service into small communities, which they otherwise might not find economically viable.

"With 82 percent of Alaskan communities off the road system, aviation is no luxury, but rather a necessity," Young says, pointing out that the communities off the system are dependent on air service.

Currently, about 25 Alaska communities are involved in the program that served a total of 71 nationwide in 2012. The Federal Aviation Administration provides the official list of program locations; the program is administered by the Department of Transportation.

Hydaburg, Angoon, Cordova, Gustavus, Kake and Yakutat are among other communities that have been involved in the program.

For these and other communities, air service is their highway. The residents of those communities pay taxes that contribute to funding federal transportation. It is only appropriate that a portion of those taxes are spent on transportation in and out of those communities, whether it's for roads or air service.

For these communities, it's air service — an essential link within the state and to the Lower 48.