Acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell was once again put on the spot about general aviation user fees during a Feb. 7 Senate hearing on his appointment to be administrator.
Because of concerns raised by several senators about other FAA management issues, his nomination has been put on hold.
Sturgell faced some strong words from Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) on the subject of FAA funding during the hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Sen. Smith reiterated his opposition to a $25-per-flight user fee on turbine aircraft.
“I do not agree with the premise that we have to create a new bureaucratic system to pay for the improvements to the air traffic control system. I see no reason why we cannot use the current system of fuel and excise taxes to fund the FAA and the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). The money needed to pay for the NextGen system can be collected through the current financing structure,” he said during his opening statement.
AOPA is against user fees on any segment of aviation. Once established, they expand to all aviation users as has happened in many other parts of the world. The FAA’s proposed 2009 fiscal year budget also includes huge new taxes and user fees on GA.
Sen. Smith has already cast two votes against FAA user fees. In May 2007, he voted for the amendment to strip the $25 user fee from the Senate bill (S.1300) during the Commerce Committee markup. And in September 2007, he supported the Finance Committee bill (S.2345) that continues the existing tax-based system to fund the FAA.
By Warren D. Morningstar
“What part of ‘NO!’ doesn’t the White House understand?” asked AOPA President Phil Boyer after reviewing the administration’s proposed FAA budget for fiscal year 2009. “They just changed the dates and submitted essentially the same proposal as last year—a proposal soundly rejected by the general aviation community, the House, and the Senate.
“Once again, the Bush administration wants huge new taxes and user fees imposed on general aviation, and it wants to slash and burn the Airport Improvement Program (AIP),” said Boyer. “To think that GA or Congress is going to treat this proposal any differently than the last one is, frankly, crazy, and a waste of government resources in ideological posturing.”
The administration on Feb. 4 submitted its federal budget proposals for fiscal year 2009 (Oct. 1, 2008, to Sep. 30, 2009) to Congress. The Bush FAA budget would cut nearly $1 billion from what Congress had approved for AIP—a 22-percent reduction.
“We’re facing a capacity crisis at the major airline airports, and even the FAA concedes that the most effective method of decreasing congestion is building new runways. Yet they cut money for construction,” Boyer said.
“And did they really think that this year we would roll over for a 70-cents-per-gallon tax on avgas, and universal user fees to access portions of the National Airspace System?” Boyer asked. “Congress rejected that tax increase and broad user fees last year, and Congress has shot down user fee proposals for the last three decades. AOPA will continue to fight any attempt to impose user fees on any segment of aviation.”
The administration continues to try to sell the story that the FAA needs a new funding system because the aviation trust fund is running out of money, Boyer observed. “But reality proves the exact opposite. Just as AOPA’s studies have predicted, the trust fund is growing.”
Admittedly, one reason for the burgeoning surplus is that the FAA is currently not able to spend money on airport improvements because the Senate has not yet passed an FAA authorization bill. But even if the FAA were building runways, the trust fund would still have a $2.5 billion surplus on Sep. 30, 2008—the end of the current fiscal year.
“The facts bear repeating,” said Boyer. “The current funding system of aviation excise taxes works. These proven taxes will generate all the necessary funds for air traffic control modernization and for new runways. Let’s bring some sanity back to the budget process and go with what we know works, and what the general aviation public and Congress will support.”
February 4, 2008