Is GA to blame for stalled Senate FAA funding bill?

February 28, 2008

Is GA to blame for stalled Senate FAA funding bill?

By Warren D. Morningstar

Kansas senators back GA

While West Virginia Sen. John D. Rockefeller blames GA for the Senate’s delay in passing an FAA funding bill, Kansas’ two senators say they disagree.

“To say that general aviation’s rejection of user fees is what’s stalling the process is not constructive and [it is] misleading,” said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) in a statement released after Rockefeller’s hearing comments. “While the general aviation community is opposed to new taxes such as Sen. Rockefeller’s proposed user fees, they have shown that they are ready to pay their fair share for upgrading our nation’s air traffic control system by supporting a 65-percent increase in their jet fuel taxes.”

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said, “Sen. Rockefeller’s statements are egregious, counterproductive, and are at odds with the majority of the Senate Finance Committee and the House of Representatives. The people I represent who utilize general aviation do not have ‘all kinds of money,’ as Sen. Rockefeller has said. In all my years in Congress, I have never had an industry approach me volunteering to pay more in taxes. However, this is just what the general aviation community has done in order to modernize our air traffic control system. As a member of the Finance Committee, and a senator from the state producing the majority of GA aircraft in the world, I strongly encourage my colleagues to move FAA reauthorization forward before it expires on June 30.”

Brownback also noted that both the House of Representatives and the Senate Finance Committee had rejected user fees. “Sen. Rockefeller’s proposal is the only one that contains user fees,” he said.

There will not be an FAA funding bill this year “based on the GA community’s inability to compromise,” said Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) during a Feb. 28 Senate Commerce Committee hearing. “I blame it on them because we can’t work it out.”

Rockefeller is a proponent of a $25-per-flight user fee for turbine aircraft that he says is necessary to pay for modernization of the air traffic control system. Rockefeller also contends that general aviation is not currently paying its fair share of the costs of operating ATC.

But his colleague on the committee, Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), disagreed. To say that general aviation killed the FAA funding bill for the year is “a bit of an unfair statement,” said Sununu. He noted that GA has supported bills that “bring us to a much more equitable and proportionate sharing of the costs” of the ATC system.

Sununu said that he and other members of the Commerce Committee opposed the $25 user fee because it would have significant administrative costs and be difficult to oversee.

“We have a system in place for collecting revenues to support this modernization and that is an aviation fuel tax,” Sununu said. “And the proposals put in place...significantly increase fuel taxes on general aviation.” He said the Finance Committee’s tax bill (S.2345) and the House FAA funding bill (H.R.2881) accomplished the goals of raising enough money for ATC modernization and more equitably distributing costs among different classes of users without imposing user fees.

The current aviation tax system has been extended until June 30. Congress must either pass a new FAA funding bill before then or extend the status quo once again. While the House has done its part, the Senate has not passed a final bill. The Senate Finance Committee approved an aviation tax bill (S.2345) that increases jet fuel taxes 65 percent, while S. 1300, the bill from the Commerce aviation subcommittee (chaired by Rockefeller), includes the $25 user fee. Those two bills have to be reconciled before the Senate can pass a final FAA funding bill.

February 28, 2008