The U.S. Senate has passed yet another short-term extension of the Airport Improvement Program. The action may be the best the Senate can manage to answer AIR-21, the bill the House passed in June that would reinstate a multi-year AIP authorization and provide additional funds by taking the Airport and Airway Trust Fund “off-budget.”
If enacted, this would be the fourth extension of AIP since it expired last October. Legislators have been battling over the FAA ever since. The main points of contention are the off-budget issue, which is championed by AIR-21 sponsor Bud Shuster (R-Pa.), and a push by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for increased airline service at the nation’s four airports limited by takeoff and landing slots.
The Senate’s short-term extension bill could bypass Senate debate on the FAA altogether if it is accepted by the House as the Senate’s alternative to AIR-21. Legislators from both chambers would then move directly to a conference committee to write a compromise bill. The final version would still require Senate and House approval, but it could not be amended, only sent back to the conference committee for more work.
Support in the House for taking the trust fund off-budget is strong—AOPA helped repel an amendment to remove the trust fund off-budget provision last June, and the amendment failed by a vote of 179-248. Senate support for the off-budget provision is less certain, though. Several key senators have expressed opposition to the idea.
Shuster is reportedly tired of the delay and may demand a conference on his bill. Senators who oppose taking the trust fund off-budget could try to block appointment of Senate members of the conference committee. With Congress scheduled to begin a month-long recess next week, it is quite possible that further action will not come until September.
If so, AIP will lapse. Current airport projects funded by AIP could continue, though, and most scheduled for the summer construction season are already under way.
To help unlock the aviation trust fund, AOPA members should write to both their U.S. senators and urge them to support the off-budget provisions of H.R.1000. Senators often hold town meetings with constituents in their home states during the August congressional recess (August 7-September 7), so this month is a good time to visit them in person and ask for their help. See AOPA’s trust fund issue brief for more information on the issue; see also the detailed legislative status of S.1467.
August 2, 1999