Proposed Tax Bad for Farmers, Small Aircrafts
July 29, 2009
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  • PAT BECKER, Selfridge, The Jamestown Sun

    Published Wednesday, September 19, 2007

    North Dakota’s ranchers are used to overcoming adversity when it comes to their stock.

    Whether their cattle face sickness, lack of food or poor weather, our ranchers stand up to each challenge and live up to their reputation of being among the best in the world. From moving stock to higher ground in the case of a flood to vaccinating each head from a contagious illness, ranchers will do whatever is necessary to ensure that their herds continue to thrive.

    Many ranchers rely on new tools to aid them in their work – small aircraft. However, small planes and all those who depend on them here in North Dakota are now being threatened by a proposed tax in Washington. That is why the Independent Beef Association of North Dakota has added its voice to the chorus of other small businesses, charitable and nonprofit organizations, and farm groups in opposition to a new airline-backed tax proposal that would eliminate the ability for all of these groups to take to the skies.

    Pressured by the loud voices of the airlines’ lobbyists, the Senate Commerce Committee recently passed a proposal for funding the new air traffic control system that includes devastating new taxes on general aviation aircraft, while giving the airlines a massive tax break. The Commerce Committee proposal – S. 1300 – calls for the fuel tax paid by general aviation to more than double, increasing from 21 cents a gallon to 49 cents a gallon. Meanwhile the very same proposal, lobbied for by the big airlines in Washington, calls for the fuel tax on commercial carriers to be completely eliminated. This means that the airlines’ huge tax break would come at the direct expense of ranchers, farmers and small and medium-sized businesses here at home.

    In addition to an increase in current taxes, S. 1300 calls for new and radical fees to be placed on general aviation planes. These fees would mean taxes and new administrative burdens every single time planes take off – for pilots who rely on the ability to use their plane for work on an almost a day-to-day basis, these new fees mean tighter budgets and could mean less flights, harming the pilots and the people they serve.

    These small airplanes are essential to efficient ranching. By connecting ranchers with researchers, feed distributors, veterinarians and other ranchers, planes make it possible for these men and women to respond quickly to challenges that may face their herds. While many of these other professionals could be days away by road, a small airplane can reach them in hours, saving us precious time in emergencies.

    But it does not stop there: many small businesses around North Dakota rely on small airplanes to serve their customers. These small business owners rely on the ranchers to give them affordable products to sell to customers. As the costs go up for the ranchers because of new taxes, the businesses will have no choice but to pass costs onto customers if they want to continue to support their business.

    Because commercial airlines are only a small percentage of the airports in the U.S., small airports around North Dakota are essential to this process. Without access points to the rural areas of our state, ranchers would not be able to sustain connections between all of the members that make our industry thrive. With new and increased taxes, these local airports would see a loss in air traffic, causing everything from the layoff of employees to the potential closing of the airport itself. This would cut off local communities and their residents from everything they need for their daily lives.

    Soon, the Senate Finance Committee will release its own plan for FAA reauthorization, and if these fees are included, we fear we may be one step closer to taxing our ranchers out of business. We hope the Finance Committee will mirror the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which recently passed a common-sense proposal that would increase funding for modernization while preserving the simple, efficient pay at the pump system of fuel taxes.

    We at I-BAND support a modern air traffic control system to provide safe air transportation for all fliers. However, we do not support a proposal that gives the airlines a massive tax break at the expense of our livelihood. We urge Senator Conrad to support ranchers and small businesses in North Dakota and keep general aviation strong.

    (Becker is the owner and operator of Becker Ranch in Selfridge. He is the president of the Independent Beef Association of North Dakota and a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.)

    Date: 2007-09-19