FAA funding on final approach in Senate

April 25, 2008

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FAA funding on final approach in Senate

By Warren D. Morningstar

There is agreement in the Senate on FAA funding. User fees are off the table.

Late in the afternoon on April 25, the leaders of the Senate Finance and Commerce committees announced they had resolved their different approaches to FAA funding and were ready to present a final bill to the full Senate on Monday afternoon.

“We’re on final approach to an FAA funding bill in the Senate,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer, “and we finally got clearance because of the support and determination of AOPA members who were willing to accept a tax increase, if truly necessary, to support a modernized air traffic control system, but stood rock solid against user fees.”

If the bill is approved by the full Senate, it is expected to keep avgas taxes at the current rate of 19.3 cents per gallon, but increase jet fuel taxes to 36 from 21.8 cents per gallon. There would be no change in the taxes on airlines. And no user fees.

“While many worked behind the scenes to make this happen, we give special acknowledgment to Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Commerce aviation subcommittee Chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) along with Finance Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and aviation subcommittee Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) who worked together for the benefit of all aviation,” said Boyer. “Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) also played a pivotal role on the Finance Committee.”

If the funding bill is approved by the Senate, it will then go to a House-Senate conference committee to resolve the differences between the Senate bill and the House bill (H.R.2881), which passed last September. The House bill has somewhat different tax rates than the Senate bill, with an increased tax on avgas of just under a nickel a gallon, but the same 36-cent-per-gallon tax on jet fuel.

More problematic for final agreement are labor provisions in the House bill that are not included in the Senate bill. Some Republican members of the House who otherwise support general aviation voted against H.R.2881 because of those labor provisions, and President Bush has threatened to veto an FAA funding bill if the labor language stays in.

Said Sen. Baucus, “Our quick action and cooperation on this bill reflects strong and continued commitment to the condition of our bridges, highways, and air traffic control, and to the safety of Americans.”

Sen. Rockefeller said, “A modern aviation system is absolutely critical if we’re going to get serious about the growing congestion of planes in the sky and delays on the runways. The price of modernization needs to be fairly shared by all users of the system. That’s why we’ve started to level the playing field between commercial passengers and private jet owners.”

Sen. Roberts commented on the importance of general aviation to the economy of Kansas, contributing nearly $9 billion a year. “For two years I’ve been fighting to protect general aviation from a user fee that would create higher costs and more red tape for owners and pilots who fly their own planes,” said Roberts. “Stopping this user fee is general aviation’s No. 1 priority and I’m happy to announce we’ve done it.”

April 25, 2008