Fiscal problems lead to conflict, confusion and uncertainty

WASHINGTON, D.C. — March is a windy month. That is expected to be especially true this March in the nation’s capital, with much activity, conflict and confusion as lawmakers try to sort out the nation’s fiscal problems.

All this activity brings to the forefront several issues that general aviation groups have been wrestling with for many months.

Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), cites three important topics on which his and other GA groups will focus: Sequestration; the President’s budget for 2013; and continuing resolutions.

It is still unknown if the President and Congress will allow sequestration to go into effect March 1. If it does happen, it will mean mandatory financial cuts in all government programs.

The Budget Control Act of 2011 called for reducing the deficit $1.2 trillion to as much as $1.5 trillion over 10 years and established a 12-member Joint Committee to come up with solutions. If the committee could not agree on revenue and spending, the bill called for sequestration. Sequestration was originally scheduled for January but was delayed with the can kicked down the road a couple of months. As it comes up in March, it could be delayed again — not solved, just unsettled.

Unfortunately, when cuts are considered by the federal government, the “Washington Monument Approach” is usually used. That is, government officials declare if spending must be cut they will cease running the elevator in the Washington Monument to save electricity. Opponents cry. “my goodness, you can’t make visitors walk up all 555 feet!” “OK,” the bureaucrats reply, “we’ll keep the elevator running, but you must agree to raise taxes.”

The President’s budget for fiscal year 2014 is to be submitted in March. Once again it will call for $100 fees for every flight that uses ATC services, with most piston-powered general aviation aircraft exempt, along with medical flights and some others. When brought up in the past, Congress studied it and rejected it. This has not deterred the President. It is another Washington Monument response: If it’s important, we’ll have to tax it. If it is refused, there’s another opportunity for finger pointing.

Changing the depreciation schedule for corporate jets is another financial issue expected in the President’s budget. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and NBAA have been opposing this move with strong messages about the value of flying to the nation’s economy. Again, Congress will have the final say.

These potential charges against aviation have been voted down in the past, but the nation’s current financial situation raises concern among aviation interests. The deficit, now approaching $17 trillion, could tempt some spending cutters to compromise and accept adding federal fees to aviation.

Meanwhile, continuing resolutions have kept the nation going. The Senate has not passed a budget in almost four years. Instead, Congress passes short-term continuing resolutions to permit the government to continue spending and to operate. The current resolution expires March 27. Some kind of action needs to be taken before then. What it will be is uncertain.

It is this record of uncertainty that puts into jeopardy programs like airport development, the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), and other long-range planning in — and out — of government.

For example, all this uncertainty affects the decisions of businesses across the country about whether to buy a business aircraft, whether it is a large corporation thinking about buying a corporate jet or a small company thinking about buying a single-engine two-place aircraft.

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