FAA budget a ‘Trojan Horse’ hiding tax increase, user fees, and attack on aviation trust fund, says AOPA Legislative Action
The Clinton administration is hiding a $1.7 billion tax increase and general aviation user fees in its proposed budget for the Federal Aviation Administration, says AOPA Legislative Action. The White House sent the FAA budget request to Congress February 2.
“Do all your flying by 1999, you won’t be able to afford to fly after that—if the administration gets what it wants,” said AOPA Legislative Action President Phil Boyer. He called the budget request a Trojan Horse, hiding higher taxes on aviation users and a coordinated attack on the aviation trust fund.
Hidden in the budget volumes are details of the administration plan to implement user fees, collect an additional $1.7 billion over and above current aviation taxes, and replace the Airport and Airway Trust Fund with a vaguely defined “Transportation Fund for America.”
“And now it appears they want to charge aviation users to fund non-aviation projects,” said Boyer.
Goodbye fuel taxes, hello 100-percent user fees?
According to the budget addendum, “beginning in 2000, the excise taxes that are levied on domestic air passenger tickets and flight segments, international departures and arrivals, domestic air cargo, and aviation fuels are proposed to be phased out over a five-year period, and replaced with more efficient, cost-based user fees charged for FAA services.”
The White House will propose legislation to fund the FAA entirely by cost-based user fees by 2003.
Aviation taxed for non-aviation projects?
The administration also wants to create the “Transportation Fund for America,” financed in part by an additional $1.7 billion to be raised with new aviation user fees.
But while the administration proposes a $1.7 billion tax increase for aviation users in 2000, FAA spending would increase only $600 million. In a February 2 briefing for reporters, a senior Department of Transportation official couldn’t say what those fees would be or how they would be spent.
“The budget documents seem to assess additional user fees to raise money for other purposes,” said Boyer. “Is the ‘Transportation Fund for America’ going to be a ‘slush fund’ for non-aviation projects?”
Record FAA budget for 1999
For fiscal 1999, the administration is requesting a record $9.75 billion for the FAA—a 7-percent increase—which includes $5.6 billion for FAA operations and the hiring of 185 additional air traffic controllers. The FAA’s facilities and equipment budget would increase 14 percent to $2.1 billion, while research, engineering, and development would get a 46-percent increase to $290 million.
Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants would stay at the current $1.7 billion level. “On this, we’re pleased the administration has accepted the AIP funding level set by Congress last year,” said Boyer.
In 1999, FAA funding would continue to come from the customary aviation excise taxes, including the fuel tax. But in 2000, user fees would begin. Boyer called that “potentially the beginning of the end of general aviation as we know it.”
“User fees would hand the FAA a blank check to charge whatever it wants, essentially beyond the control of Congress and the flying public,” Boyer said. “Fees would cost a great deal more to collect and they could even threaten safety. User fees would devastate general aviation.”
Boyer said that Congress has repeatedly rejected user fees and has provided adequate FAA funding using proven and efficient aviation excise taxes.
“The administration should give up the lost cause of user fees and start focusing on improving the efficiency of the FAA without compromising safety,” said Boyer. He renewed his call for appointment of the FAA Management Advisory Council, as Congress directed the administration to do 16 months ago.
“We ask Congress to reject once again the administration’s attempt to destroy our proven aviation funding system,” said Boyer. “Now more than ever, it’s time to complete FAA reform by making the FAA an independent agency, free from the political meddling of the Department of Transportation and the White House.”
AOPA Legislative Action was established to foster and promote general aviation in the United States for the benefit of all Americans. It is affiliated with the 340,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
AOPA members comprise 55 percent of all U.S. pilots and own three quarters of the nation’s 181,000 general aviation aircraft.
February 4, 1998