by Darren Goode
The Senate Finance Committee today approved, 16-5, an FAA overhaul bill that takes a different course from the Senate Commerce Committee on how each aviation sector should fund FAA programs. The Finance Committee approved the measure after rejecting an amendment from Sens. John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Trent Lott, R-Miss. — the top Democrat and Republican on the Commerce Aviation Subcommittee — that would have eliminated a $3.10 rural departure tax and raise jet fuel taxes for noncommercial flights by 16 cents per gallon above the level in the underlying bill. The Finance Committee bill would raises the general aviation jet fuel tax from 21.8 cents per gallon to 36 cents per gallon, a 65 percent increase that mirrors a version the House passed this week.
Finance Chairman Baucus said he opposed increasing the fuel tax for noncommercial fliers, while Finance ranking member Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the amendment’s proposed tax increase would “bring about rural destruction.” After the amendment failed, Rockefeller gave a 10-minute explanation of his and Lott’s philosophy that airlines are paying too much and general aviation too little into the aviation trust fund.
“High-end corporate [travelers] have gotten a free ride on the backs of airlines,” he said. “We are asking for a reasonable contribution from [general aviation].”
Rockefeller initially voted against the bill but switched his vote, citing a discussion at the markup on the importance of additional federal aid the bill would authorize for New York City as part of a promise made after the Sept. 11 terriorist attacks. Lott, who did not attend today’s markup, voted against the measure by proxy. Lott argued that the committee can take more time to write a proposal since lawmakers are likely to extend aviation excise taxes — which expire Sept. 30 — another three months. “There [are] just too many problems with it,” he said.
Appropriators are upset that the Finance Committee bill exempts some FAA modernization funds from going through the annual appropriations debate. “In our view, such an action would be inappropriate and detrimental to the Congress’s ability to review and control FAA spending,” Senate Appropriations Committee leaders wrote Thursday.
Before the bill goes to the floor, leaders said today they must discuss the different approaches. The Commerce Committee bill includes a $25 per flight surcharge spearheaded by Rockefeller and Lott. The Bush administration and airlines support this type of new user fee while general aviation does not. Several changes were made to the Finance Committee bill since it was initially released Tuesday, including the removal of language that would have expanded the 4.3 cents per gallon fuel tax for airlines to include domestic legs of international flights.
The bill raises the $15.10 tax paid by passengers on international commercial flights to $16.65.
Source: CONGRESS DAILY