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Many Questions About Money Remain After Financing Is Restored for F.A.A.
August 11, 2011
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  • August 8, 2011

    By Edward Wyatt

    WASHINGTON – It took the Senate all of about 30 seconds on Friday to approve a bill that will put 4,000 employees of the Federal Aviation Administration back to work on Monday. Calculating the cost of the 14-day standoff will take much longer.

    Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, meanwhile, made clear on Friday that the fight was not over. The bill, signed into law by President Obama within hours of its approval, expires on Sept. 16.

    Among the costs, of course, is the $388 million, as calculated by the American Association of Airport Executives, in lost revenue from ticket and fuel taxes that the federal government could not collect during the shutdown.

    And there could be the salaries of about 3,960 F.A.A. workers who were forced out of work for two weeks and have not been guaranteed that they will receive back pay.

    The transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, said Friday that “as a matter of fairness, we will also do everything we can to get Congress to provide our furloughed employees with the back pay they deserve.” The 40 airport safety inspectors who were required to work during the shutdown have been promised back pay.

    Thousands more construction workers lost income because the F.A.A. halted more than 250 of its own building projects, and many airports asked crews to stop work on airport improvement efforts that they were financing out of their own pockets with the expectation that they would be repaid by the F.A.A.

    While the government lost revenue on airline ticket taxes, passengers who paid those taxes will not receive refunds, the Internal Revenue Service said Friday. That reversed its earlier position that passengers could apply for refunds if they had paid the tax before the F.A.A. shutdown on a ticket that was used during the last two weeks.

    “The impasse was an unnecessary strain on local economies around the country at a time when we can’t allow politics to get in the way of our economic recovery,” Mr. Obama said Friday in a statement.

    While the nation’s economy will gain some benefit from the return to work of those idled, the impact was not likely to be as big as many politicians made it out to be. Repeated assertions that 70,000 or more construction workers had lost their jobs because of the F.A.A. shutdown were almost certainly overstated.

    The figure came from the Associated General Contractors of America, which estimated last month that 70,000 “construction and related jobs” were at risk in an F.A.A. shutdown. The estimate, based on research by Professor Stephen Fuller of George Mason University, included 24,000 construction workers, 11,000 workers in “service and supply businesses” and 35,000 jobs that “will be undermined in the broader economy, from the lunch wagon near the job site to the truck dealership across town.”

    Any nuance in that estimate was quickly lost in the parade of dueling news conferences and press releases that Democrats and Republicans used to cast blame for the F.A.A. impasse by pointing fingers across the aisle. Even after a article debunked the idea on Thursday morning that 70,000 construction workers had lost work, Democrats and Republicans continued to cite the figure.

    The interim financing measure passed by unanimous consent by the Senate on Friday is the 21st short-term measure passed by Congress since the last long-term bill expired in 2007. Both the House and the Senate have approved long-term measures this year, and there are only about a dozen differences remaining between the two bills. Those could be big enough, however, to keep a long-term agreement on ice.

    Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who is the majority leader, addressed one of those issues on Friday when he said that the F.A.A. employees had been forced out of work “because Republicans were holding their jobs hostage to try and jam through a favor for the C.E.O. of one airline.”

    He was referring to Delta Air Lines, which has lobbied Republicans to roll back a National Mediation Board rule that makes it easier for unions to organize airline workers. Delta said this week that it had never pushed for an F.A.A. shutdown.

    Representative John L. Mica, a Florida Republican who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, fired off his own warning on Friday.

    “If the Senate refuses to negotiate on the few remaining issues, they can be assured that every tool at our disposal will be utilized to ensure a long-term bill is signed into law.”

    Source: NEW YORK TIMES
    Date: 2011-08-05