The White House is reversing course in its Fiscal Year 2016 budget, dropping the proposed $100 air traffic control user fee that had been the mainstay over the past several budgets. But at the same time, the Obama Administration continues its proposed change in business aircraft depreciation schedules.
The budget, released February 2, would keep the FAA’s Fiscal Year 2016 funding slightly below 2015’s. The White House would increase the operations account by $174 million, scale up facilities and equipment (F&E) funding by $255 million, but cut airports funding by $450 million.
The White House is proposing a $15.8 billion budget overall for FAA, including $9.915 billion for operations; $2.855 billion for F&E, $166 million for research, engineering and development; and $2.9 billion for the Airport Improvement Program.
The aviation user fee budget line for new air traffic control charges has been zeroed out not only for the FY2016 estimate, but also for future years. In addition, this year’s budget would seek an increase in the general fund contribution, from the estimated $1.146 billion in FY2015 to $1.368 billion in FY2016. The White House’s previous budget had called for a ramp up of user fees, while the general fund contribution slowly disappeared.
The administration had included some sort of provision for air traffic control charge in most of its past budget proposals, only to be rebuffed on Capitol Hill every time. In recent years the administration had sought a $100 charge, in part to better balance the contributions from the users. General Aviation Caucus members have written several letters to the White House in the past, urging that the user-fee proposal be shelved. Last year, the White House proposed the user-fee charge in its budget documents but didn’t actually ask Congress to make the change. Instead, administratration officials said the proposal was only part of its overall budget picture.
A user-fee proposal likely would have been dead on arrival again this year. But with Congress tackling FAAreauthorization this year, user fee talks are not off the table. Several Washington officials are seeking consideration of privatization or other structures that have been reliant on user fees.
BEYOND USER FEES
While the user fee proposal is absent, at least in this year’s proposal, the White House rolled over its proposed depreciation schedule change for business aircraft. The proposal, offered as a chance to close a tax “loophole,” has long been used as a political chip in federal budget deficit talks. The proposal would seek to match business aircraft depreciation schedules to those of airliners, extending the timeline from five years to seven years.
The White House estimates that such a proposal would raise $108 million in FY2016, more than $2 billion over the next five years and $3.5 billion over the next decade.
As for specifics in the FAA’s budget, the White House is seeking $956 million for NextGen projects. The administration is requesting $21.3 million to hire additional aviation safety inspectors and engineers, both for surveillance and certification efforts. The $1.3 billion total budget for the FAA’s Aviation Safety Oversight office also includes funding for “oversight and training for designee supervision and the integration of manned and unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System,” budget documents say. Another measure closely followed by general aviation interests would include $6 million for the continued research into a leaded aviation gasoline replacement.
Among the more controversial measures in the White House budget is a call to slash airport funding but enable airport operators to increase the Passenger Facility Charge from $4.50 to $8. The budget would eliminate guaranteed funding for hub airports and focus grants on smaller commercial and general aviation airports that do not have as much access to other revenue sources.