For months, AOPA has felt the tension in the calm before a federal funding hurricane. But now with the release of the president's fiscal 2008 budget proposal on February 5, that storm has taken shape and is gathering energy: Tax increases and user fees for general aviation are now upon us.
"This is real, and it's just as bad as we thought it was going to be," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "That's why we've been lining up opposition to it in Congress. It's going to take an all-out fight by the aviation community to defeat this."
Boyer isn't wasting any time. He'll continue his extensive round of meetings with lawmakers and be on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. This dovetails AOPA's press conference with reporters last week.
President Bush released his $2.9 trillion spending plan in four massive volumes. The overarching philosophy is to increase military spending while squeezing the rest of the government. Unfortunately, the proposal would radically alter the funding mechanism for the world's largest, safest, and most successful air traffic control system. If that were not enough, the budget would slash airport funding by $1 billion.
The president's budget sets the tone for the FAA's coming reauthorization bill, which needs to be passed into law by the end of this September. The bill will determine who pays what and how much the FAA will receive in its budget.
"While we won't know the specifics until the actual FAA reauthorization proposal is released later this month, we have strong reason to believe it would increase GA fuel taxes by nearly fourfold," said Boyer. "As if a huge tax increase isn't bad enough, the budget makes it clear that the FAA would charge user fees for GA operations in 'the nation's most congested airspace,' which sounds like Class B airspace.
"And don't think you could get out of paying fees by avoiding Class B airspace. The FAA is also looking at dramatically increasing fees for aircraft registration and replacement pilot certificates. The FAA wants to collect user fees on many new services such as processing pilot and medical certificates," Boyer added.
AOPA maintains that the current system has worked well over the past four decades and should be preserved. Special interests in Washington, D.C., are coalescing to destroy it. The FAA wants user fees, which are different than taxes, because the source of funding would allow it to sidestep the congressional budget process. The agency could spend the money the way it wants to without congressional scrutiny and use the fees to fund its manufactured budgetary crisis.
The White House Office of Management and Budget, meanwhile, wants to spend less from the Treasury's general funds to help reduce the budget deficit. And the airlines simply want to wrest control of the system and use it for their own benefit.
No one has explained how the user fees would be collected and accounted for.
"All this ridiculous funding scheme would do is make aviation more expensive and more complex," Boyer said. "Why destroy a critical function that the government actually does well?"
For more information, see " The FAA Funding Debate and User Fees."
Updated: February 7, 2007, 4:38 p.m. EST