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House passes H.R.2881, no user fees

The House of Representatives on Sept. 20 passed H.R.2881, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007. The bill would fund the FAA through 2011, provide additional money for air traffic control modernization (NextGen), and increase the funds for airport improvements, particularly small general aviation airports.

"H.R.2881 is a great model for funding our future aviation system," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "And the best news for general aviation—no user fees, a modest fuel tax increase for NextGen, and no tax cuts for the airlines."

"And thanks to AOPA members who helped us achieve this result," Boyer added, "by responding to our targeted communications asking them to contact certain members of the House at key times."

Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee was scheduled on the same day to debate changes to the Senate's version of an FAA funding bill (S.1300). Once the Senate bill is finalized and approved by the full Senate, a conference committee will resolve the differences between H.R.2881 and S.1300.

H.R.2881 is an "historic bill addressing the needs of aviation today and into the future," said Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the Transportation Committee. "These are all-time high investments."

Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), aviation subcommittee chairman, said the bill would "increase capacity and safety and modernize the air traffic control system," and that the NextGen system can be "absorbed within the existing FAA financing structure, and that's exactly what we did. Our bill does not impose user fees as the administration recommended."

Earlier in the week, the House Ways and Means Committee (which has jurisdiction over all taxes) set the stage for acceptance of H.R.2881 when it voted to keep airline taxes, including the airline fuel tax, at existing levels. Aviation gasoline taxes would increase from 19.3 to 24.1 cents per gallon (an increase roughly equal to inflation since the last fuel tax adjustment), and the Jet-A tax would go from 21.8 to 35.9 cents per gallon. Money from the increased taxes on GA fuel would be earmarked exclusively for air traffic control modernization.

They followed the recommendation of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (the origin of H.R.2881) on what tax levels should be. From the beginning, the Transportation Committee had rejected user fees on any segment of aviation as an option for FAA funding.

"We said from the beginning, take user fees off the table and we'll discuss whether there should be an adjustment in what GA pays," said Boyer. "General aviation is willing to pay more to improve the air traffic control system, unlike the airlines who wanted to change the entire FAA funding system to obtain a huge tax cut for themselves."

H.R.2881 would provide nearly $68 billion to the FAA over the next four years. Some $13 billion would be available to maintain and improve FAA facilities and equipment, including $5 billion for the start of the NextGen air traffic control modernization program.

Another $15.8 billion would be put into the Airport Improvement Program, and more than $37 billion for FAA salaries and other operational expenses.

"The House has demonstrated that the administration and the airlines were wrong," said Boyer. "The system was never broken. We can continue to maintain and improve the world's safest aviation system within the time-proven aviation tax system.

"We thank the leadership of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the Ways and Means Committee, and the members of the House of Representatives for doing the right thing for aviation."

The bill passed by a vote of 267 to 151. Some Republicans who are normally strong GA supporters could not go along with a provisions of bill that would reopen contract negotiations between air traffic controllers and the FAA, and make it easier for the Teamsters Union to organize FedEx drivers.

Those two provisions "caused me great concern for the long-term processes of this bill," said Thomas Petri (R-Wisc.), aviation subcommittee ranking member. The White House has also threatened to veto the bill if it hits the president's desk with those labor provisions in it, and without the user fees the administration proposed in February.

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