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No User Fees For Now As FAA Reauthorization Stalls – October 2008

Excise taxes will remain and user fees will not be put on general aviation for at least six months as the U.S. Congress in late September passed another bill temporarily extending funding for the Federal Aviation Administration.

Congress has kept the FAA in almost limbo for more than a year since the five-year authorization expired September 30, 2007. The agency has been operating on short extensions since then, making it difficult to plan airport grants and other financial projects. The FAA was just one of the agencies needing Congressional action to keep operating. Having failed to pass 12 other agencies’ funding bills prior to September 30, 2008, the law body passed a stopgap $630 billion spending bill needed to keep those other agencies operating. This, too, funded them only until March 31, 2009. These and the FAA temporary extension actions pass on responsibilities to the next Administration and next Congress, indicating the FAA’s full reauthorization will have much competition for members’ time and attention.

Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, introduced the bill authorizing the FAA to spend almost $7.9 billion over the next six months. It provides for $1.95 billion for airport grants. Several other provisions in the bill Oberstar introduced earlier for the full reauthorization are also included to keep the FAA operating. The full term extension bill introduced earlier by the Minnesota Democrat had passed the House but bogged down in the Senate.

Oberstar said continuing the excise taxes at the same level is necessary “to support the Aviation Trust Fund, which in recent years has provided about 80 percent of the FAA budget.”

Keeping the excise taxes for six months instead of establishing user fees does not end the struggle to avoid the fees. Proponents for charging general aviation more were very active before Congress started to consider the full reauthorization and this latest temporary extension gives them a chance to regroup and intensify their efforts.

With a new Administration and Congress coming in, advocates and opponents for the charges now have until March 31, 2009 to sell their positions if a reauthorization is to pass by that time. The deadline is just more than two months after the inauguration and new Congress seats, leading many to believe another temporary extension will be needed, in which case the user fee issue will continue to boil.

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