The Eternal User Fee Debate
Just when general aviation pilots were hoping the debate was over, the proposed federal budget for 2011 is calling for aviation "user charges." The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released the proposal without much detail, but the document makes it clear that the administration wants to replace some of the aviation excise taxes with "direct user charges."
"It is often said the devil is in the details, but even with only a few details, there is much about which we are concerned," said Craig L. Fuller, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. "The warning light went on with the budget briefing documents and the plan for imposing billions in user fees on the aviation community."
The FAA likes the idea of user fees because such charges could provide a source of revenue that circumvents the congressional budget process. The agency could then spend the money as it likes, without congressional scrutiny, or use it as a funding source to borrow against.
And the few details show that the budget "proposes repealing some aviation excise taxes and replacing these taxes with direct user charges." Direct user charges are just another name for user fees, noted Fuller. The "user charges" would total some $7 billion in 2011, or about half of the FAA's total budget.
"We don't know what kind of user charges the Obama administration would propose to implement, but the previous administration wanted to raise about $7 billion through charges to use the air traffic control system," Fuller said.
Fee System Meets Resistance
The Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minnesota), who has been a staunch opponent of user fees, released a statement saying, "I note that the budget appears to propose some type of aviation user fee. Aviation user fees have been proposed several times in the past by OMBs of various administrations, and have not been adopted by Congress."
Fuller has testified in support of Chairman Oberstar's bill, H.R. 915, to finance the FAA through the current system of aviation excise taxes. The legislative deal brokered in 2008 would allow general aviation fuel tax increases - not user fees - to help fund FAA operations and air traffic control modernization. That legislation should remain intact, according to Fuller.
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