Presidential campaigns square off on transportation issues

October 22, 2008

With only days left before the presidential election, AOPA staff members were in Washington on Oct. 22 attempting to understand how the presidential candidates might structure transportation policies. At a National Journal policy breakfast on transportation, representatives of the Obama and McCain campaigns expanded on their candidates’ transportation policy plans.

Mortimer Downey, transportation advisor to Sen. Obama, noted that infrastructure improvements across all transportation sectors need more investment, including “getting an ATC system that works.” He defined a series of short-, mid-, and long-term goals to address transportation and its impact on energy independence, the environment, and the economy. Downey said that short-term, Obama would use transportation infrastructure projects to spur the economy. Mid-term, he would develop an “infrastructure bank” to harness funds for longer-term improvement projects. And, long-term, he would work to pass funding bills for all transportation modes supported by all parties involved in those sectors. While labeled as a “long-term” item, Downey said the passing of an FAA reauthorization bill needs to be “soon” in an effort to move forward with ATC modernization. FAA reauthorization bills have been stalled in Congress since mid-2007. The current legislation expired in September 2007, but has been extended several times.

Meanwhile, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Sen. McCain’s senior policy adviser, labeled transportation an “important” issue. He said McCain was committed to moving away from imported oil and toward energy independence through alternative energy sources. Transportation, a user of as much as 30 percent of all energy, is an important part of that. McCain is an opponent of earmarking funding bills, which means Congress directing federal funding to particular favorite projects of key legislators. Instead, Holtz-Eakin said, McCain favors using independent third parties to evaluate infrastructure projects and determine a reasonable return on investment before funding is released. McCain does not support the infrastructure investment bank, noting that it looked too much like a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac government solution—referring to the troubled government corporations supporting mortgages. Eakin noted that the federal role in transportation needs to be more defined, and that the burden should be shared with state and local governments and private industry, which benefits from transportation improvements.

Janet Kavinoky, director of transportation infrastructure for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and another panelist at the breakfast, asked the gathering, “What are we going to do to modernize ATC?” She then stated, “Whether it floats, flies, or rolls, it's important.” Safety problems and congestion across all modes of transportation are a drain on the economy. Investments to fix those problems help the economy. Kavinoky reiterated AOPA’s longstanding position that fuel taxes are the most efficient and easiest way to raise transportation revenues. To those who say there is no support for increasing the gasoline tax, Kavinoky said that all funding options have to be on the table.

Former Transportation Secretary James Burnley said that a meaningful increase in the gasoline tax isn’t going to be supported, particularly if it comes in tandem with a “cap and trade” bill that requires those who contribute to greenhouse emissions to cap the amount of emissions and to pay a fee for not meeting future emission standards. The cap and trade fees amount to another tax on top of the gasoline tax, he said.

For more on Obama and McCain's positions on issues affecting general aviation, see the candidate’s responses to a series of questions from AOPA.

Thomas B. Haines

Thomas B Haines | Editor in Chief, AOPA

AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.