Following is my speech and (notes) from an AirVenture forum that will never take place.
“I want to thank you, Mr. President, and all 535 members of Congress for coming to Oshkosh for EAA’s annual AirVenture and my forum, “Why I embrace user fees — and you should too!”
Also, thank you to EAA for making the large forum pavilion available on such short notice. Who knew this first-time topic would be so popular?
Before we get started, how many of you flew into Oshkosh? Wow, that’s a lot of hands. Yes, Mr. President, I did see Air Force One on the ramp. I would like to thank you for bringing it to AirVenture and for letting everyone tour it.
Anyway, let’s get to it. You all are no doubt here to learn why one taxpayer from Washington state has grown to love the idea that a user fee for general aviation is a good thing.
I don’t think there will be any disagreement about the fact that the FAA needs to be funded by a mix of aviation specific fees and a general fund contribution. Perhaps we disagree on the percentage of contributions, but that’s a topic for another forum.
For those pilots and aircraft owners who got through the Secret Service detail, this may come a bit of a shock to you, but I do embrace user fees for general aviation. Furthermore, I think you should too. In fact, many of you already do. (This elicited lots of boo’s from the pilot gallery, and a standing ovation from those members of Congress and the president who just happened to sit on the left. Weird.)
Bear with me on this and I think you’ll come to understand my rationale.
Every time we fill up one of our airplanes (not you Mr. President or Speaker Pelosi — you don’t own those planes or pay the fuel bill, we do), we pay a user fee. The government calls it a fuel tax. This method of collecting a fuel user fee has been in place for decades, and works quite well. If I don’t pay this fuel user fee, then I can’t use the airspace, ATC or buzz my neighbor. Period. No fuel, no noise.
Those pilots in the back who are nodding your heads see where I am going with this. For you Mr. President and Congress folk, let me further clarify.
Looking ahead to future budgets, Mr. President, you’ve called for user fees to fund the FAA. Frankly, I’m surprised no one on your staff told you we already pay a fuel user fee. You just happen to call it a fuel tax. You can thank me later for taking one item off your very lengthy to-do list.
What’s that Mr. President? You knew we paid a fuel user fee — as you call it, a fuel tax, already? You want user fees to be in addition to our current fuel user fee, sorry… fuel tax? Oh, that’s seems a bit problematic.
(The rest of my time devolved rather quickly into a tete-a-tete with the President. Honestly, it was rather rude, in my opinion.)
If it’s a matter of money, why not just seek help from the pilot population by adjusting the value of the fuel user fee… er, sorry fuel tax…we already pay. While many of us don’t want to pay a higher fuel user fee — please stop interrupting me, Mr. President, it’s America, I’ll call it a fuel user fee if I want to — if we can be assured of the benefits we’ll enjoy from a higher fee, most will go along.
I finally gave the President a chance to speak: “What you fail to understand Ben — may I call you Ben? — is that if we simply raised the fuel user fee… now you have me saying it… fuel tax, the method of collection is too simple and will not create any new jobs. After all, the $787 billion stimulus package was to create 600,000 new jobs. Those jobs have to come from somewhere. And what better way to add jobs — good paying, wonderfully benefited federal jobs — in our country and add value to our premiere aerospace industry than by creating positions to collect a fee to pay for those good paying, wonderfully benefited jobs and also kick a little into the FAA budget?”
(The President continued as I was dumb-struck by his logic.)
“I can see by the look on your face, accompanied by your silence, that you are blown away by the power of my idea for change in the general aviation industry. For that, you are welcome.”
Mr. President, I was prepared to discuss the merits of fully embracing our fuel user fee and what it can do for our wonderful industry. I am not prepared to discuss — nor do I like the idea of — a jobs bill being dressed up as a user fee. What you are proposing is nothing more than a way to create jobs that add NO value to a fairly efficient and somewhat robust industry. That is simply unacceptable sir.
(If looks could kill, I’d be dead twice over from the stares I got from the President and Speaker Pelosi.)
The President was whisked away by the Secret Service after the forum was over, so I don’t know if I was able to make him understand my position. But I remain fully convinced that if we make the debate our own and fully embrace fuel user fees, we can change the course of the discussion from a battle simply against user fees toward how much funding the FAA actually needs and where will it come from.
After all, we do want a fully funded FAA, right?