AOPA has learned that in developing President Bush's first budget request, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is leaning toward not honoring last year's AIR-21 agreement unlocking the aviation trust fund. If this decision were to be enacted by Congress, it would slow down deployment of new air traffic control modernization equipment, delay airport infrastructure upgrades, and place serious strains on vital programs such as controller training.
Top Republican and Democratic Members of the House Transportation Committee are taking steps to ensure the AIR-21 increases will indeed take place. Yesterday U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I), and Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), the ranking Democrat of the T&I Committee, sent a letter to the president requesting that he fully fund the $53 billion in highway and aviation projects previously approved by Congress.
"These funding levels are critical to modernizing our surface transportation and aviation infrastructure—both of which are experiencing increasing gridlock," Young and Oberstar wrote.
The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Pete Domenici (N.M.), has argued that based on new budget projections, it is possible to enact President Bush's proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut as well as new spending for prescription drugs and increased defense and education spending—provided other spending grows only at the rate of inflation.
But FAA operational spending is expected to grow at a rate well beyond annual inflation, putting pressure on Congress to either cut other unrelated spending below the inflation rate or perhaps undermine the previously agreed upon increases for FAA modernization and airport infrastructure, an approach OMB appears to be taking.
Unlocking the aviation trust fund is a key element to preventing user fees, and AOPA will join Chairman Young and Representative Oberstar in the fight for full funding of AIR-21.
[See also " On Capitol Hill."]