November 11, 2009
The four top members of the House Transportation and aviation subcommittees went before the Ways and Means Committee August 1 to urge the tax-writing committee to keep aviation excise taxes, reject the idea of user fees, and fairly distribute the costs of funding the FAA.
AOPA President Phil Boyer also testified that "H.R.2881 gets it right." That bill would keep airline passenger taxes the same and modestly increase general aviation fuel taxes to ensure robust funding for airports and money for air traffic control modernization (NextGen).
General aviation pilots want to be part of the solution and are willing to pay more for the NextGen air traffic control modernization project, AOPA President Phil Boyer told Congress on August 1.
Speaking to the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, Boyer said, "We support the tax recommendations presented to you by the members of the Transportation Committee...H.R.2881 gets it right."
FAA funding and aviation taxes are the "largest issues to face our members in the last two decades," Boyer said. He reminded Congress that AOPA members were their constituents, and that pilots paid aviation taxes "directly out of their pockets."
The aviation fuel tax is "the fairest and most efficient way" to collect funds for operating the FAA and modernizing the air traffic control system. Congress must reject the calls for user fees made by the FAA and the Senate FAA funding bill.
Speaking to the "fairness" issue alleged by the airlines, Boyer said our air transportation system is a national system, serving all sizes of aircraft and all sizes of communities. He said that the United States has a great national highway system, too, but "only 15 states out of the 50 pay their 'fair share' of the highway tax." Amtrak, mass transit, and maritime facilities get money from taxpayers who never use the services.
Boyer said that modernization would not solve all of the delays plaguing airline passengers. "The Department of Transportation says that airline delays are caused by the airlines themselves by scheduling too many flights at the same time at the big airports and by the weather," he said.
And while the airlines seem to want to blame most of their ills on GA, Boyer said, at the top 10 airports in the country, "only 4 percent of the use is by any size of general aviation aircraft."
"Our message is simple," Boyer concluded. "H.R.2881 and its taxation recommendations is what our members support."
[ See Boyer's written statement.]
"We have come together on a very strong and effective bill," said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.). "It provides a historic $68 billion for the needs of aviation over the next four years." Sitting beside him were ranking member Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), aviation subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), and subcommittee ranking member Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.).
Oberstar said that the Transportation Committee believed that general aviation should pay a "little bit more than they have in the past," and that the GA fuel tax increase recommended to the Ways and Means Committee was "right and fair."
Rep. John Mica said, "The problem with a user fee system is that it is difficult to apply, particularly to general aviation. That's why Mr. Oberstar and I agreed that we would increase some of the fuel taxes that [general aviation] pays, but we're not being oppressive."
Both Oberstar and Mica noted that the existing excise tax system and the tax rates they were recommending in H.R.2881 would fund current FAA needs and pay for NextGen.
Mica said that NextGen could be funded with a limited increase in taxes, and "the user would pay on a reasonable basis."
"It seems like you've reached a pretty good balance here," said Ways and Means Committee member Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) "Just seeing the four of you tells me that you've put together a balanced approach and you aren't disproportionally shifting the burden of paying for the system from one group to another group, especially the small guy."
The members of the Transportation Committee took a very dim view of the latest taxing proposal floated by the airlines and the Air Transport Association (ATA).
"ATA is interested in its own interests," said Mica. "It would be a shift of costs to other users of the system, and that's why the airline association proposed it," said Oberstar.
"I do not believe that airlines, or more accurately, airline passengers, should pay less than what they are now paying," Oberstar said.
"We heard from all of the stakeholders and came to the bipartisan conclusion that instead of radically changing the system, we should stay in the current [funding] system and look at what is fair," said Rep. Jerry Costello. "The best way to do that is to index the [fuel] tax for inflation, and that it would generate more money than the administration's proposal."
"If it isn't broken, don't fix it," said Rep. Tom Petri. "The current [tax] system encourages the widest possible use of the system. It helps rural areas and small communities. It helps people develop industry in those areas. This has been the policy of Congress in many other areas, from the postal system to rural electrification."
While the Transportation Committee sets the overall policy and spending limits for the FAA, it is the Ways and Means Committee that has the authority to set specific taxes to fund air traffic control modernization, airport improvements, and FAA operations.
Updated: August 2, 2007, 5 p.m. EDT
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