As federal agencies roll out more details of the president’s budget for next year, the threat of aviation user fees is becoming more defined.
In an FAA budget brief released by the Department of Transportation May 7, the Obama Administration calls for the air traffic control system to be paid for by user fees: “Starting in 2011, the budget assumes that the air traffic control system will be funded with direct charges levied on users of the system.”
The DOT summary goes further than information released by the White House earlier in the day that left open the possibility of user fees for 2011, recommending a repeal of the longstanding prohibition of the fees.
FAA Reauthorization: The Vision 100—Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act, as extended by Congress, expires on September 30, 2009. Starting in 2011, the Budget assumes that the air traffic control system will be funded with direct charges levied on users of the system. The FAA’s current excise tax system is largely based on taxes that depend on the price of customers’ airline tickets, not FAA’s cost for moving flights through the system. The Administration believes that the FAA should move toward a model whereby FAA’s funding is related to its costs, the financing burden is distributed more equitably, and funds are used to pay directly for services the users need. The Administration recognizes that there are alternative ways to achieve these objectives. Accordingly, the Administration will work with stakeholders and the Congress to enact legislation that moves toward such a system.
Changing the time-tested system of aviation taxes to a new user fee system—$7 billion in fees—would shift more of the burden onto general aviation and could potentially cripple the industry.
Additional information on the president’s proposed budget released May 7 defers aviation user fees for another year but does not rule out the imposition of the fees in 2011.
The information released by the White House Office of Management and Budget maintains the current funding structure for the FAA through fiscal year 2010. It leaves unresolved, however, the issue of a footnote in the budget overview from February that proposed replacing aviation excise taxes with “direct user charges” starting in 2011.
“It’s amazing how one footnote can have such troubling implications,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “With more than $7 billion annually still on the table starting in 2011, we will keep the pressure on and fight any proposal to push more costs on general aviation through user fees.”
The information included another section of fine print that indicates that user fees are still on the agenda for 2011: The Obama Administration recommends that the prohibition against user fees that has appeared in annual appropriation bills for years be repealed. That could pave the way for shifting a greater portion of the FAA’s budget onto users through a combination of user fees and taxes.
AOPA opposes changing the time-tested, efficient, tax-supported method of financing our nation’s aviation infrastructure with a complex set of user fees that could have a crippling effect on GA in the United States.