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Senate committee opposes user feesSenate committee opposes user fees

The FAA won’t be able to spend any money to implement new user fees if the Department of Transportation appropriations bill, now pending in the Senate, passes.

Thanks to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the appropriations aviation subcommittee once again inserted language decreeing that “none of the funds in this Act shall be available for the Federal Aviation Administration to finalize or implement any regulation that would promulgate new aviation user fees not specifically authorized by law after the date of the enactment of this Act.”

But the subcommittee went even farther in its report on the bill (S.3261), specifically challenging assertions by the Bush administration and FAA that the agency would run out of money without a change in the funding system.

“The Appropriations Committee has played a central role in ensuring that the FAA has the resources it needs to conduct its missions,” the report notes. “The committee has also sought to protect the investment of taxpayer dollars in the FAA by making sure that the agency spends its resources efficiently. Not only has the Committee cut wasteful spending on ineffective programs, it has also provided additional resources for critically important activities that the agency or the Office of Management and Budget [OMB] had overlooked in its budget requests.”

“This report revalidates AOPA’s argument that the interests of airspace users and the taxpayers are best served with Congress serving as the ‘board of directors’ for the FAA,” said Andy Cebula, executive vice president of government affairs. “Oversight by our elected officials is critical, and the administration’s user fee proposals remove Congress from the mix.”

But this appropriations bill, even though it would prohibit spending money on implementing user fees, still doesn’t completely remove the threat of fees. That’s because funding the FAA is a two-part process. It takes both an authorizing bill and an appropriations bill. And a new authorizing bill is also pending in the Senate.

The FAA has been operating under temporary extensions to the last authorizing bill that expired last Sept. 30. The current extension will expire at the end of this September.

“While the compromise FAA authorizing bill in the Senate does not include user fees—at least until the full Congress passes and the president signs new authorizing legislation—user fees still remain on the table,” said Cebula.

The airlines are still pushing for significant changes in the tax system to favor them, and the administration remains wedded to the idea of fees in lieu of, or in addition, to taxes. And the White House threat to veto any FAA bill that doesn’t include user fees or give more control of ATC to the airlines remains in effect.

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