User Fees – The Politics Continue – Better Get Involved

If you’ve never written the President, now’s a good time to start. That’s the message from House aviation subcommittee members as the FAA reauthorization bill moves through Capitol Hill. The subcommittee attended a somewhat sparsely attended public session at EAA AirVenture on Saturday, and Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., said that while user fees are big news in aviation circles, most senators and representatives are barely aware of the issue, as is the Administration. The House is likely to pass its version of the bill (H.R.2881), which does not include user fees or major tax breaks for the airlines. The Senate bill, S.1300, contains a $25-per-leg fee for all turbine-powered aircraft in the IFR system. It also eliminates fuel taxes paid by airlines, meaning the tax revenue from a cross-country trip for an airliner would drop from about $500 in fuel taxes to the flat $25. Most observers believe that the $25 fee would justify establishment of a billing and collection system that would be quickly put to work collecting new and expanded user fees on general aviation. The Administration is likely to back the Senate version of the bill, so it’s important that the President also know directly that there is widespread opposition to the user fee, according to Graves. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., the chairman of the subcommittee, said the FAA and administration are suggesting that implementation of user fees — while simultaneously cutting taxes to airlines — is the only way to pay for needed modernization of the airspace management system. But he said it’s been demonstrated that the current system of fuel taxes and excise taxes on passenger tickets and freight will actually raise more money than the proposed system, once fuel taxes are adjusted for inflation. The fuel-tax increases would amount to 4.8 cents per gallon for piston aircraft and 8.8 cents a gallon for turbine aircraft. While there appears to be general agreement in the House about financial aspects of the reauthorization bill, a couple of side issues are causing discord among members. The bill contains language that would reopen contract negotiations between the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, something the Republicans oppose and the President promised would invoke a veto. There’s also a clause that would reclassify the status of FedEx employees to put them under the same labor rules as UPS employees.

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