WASHINGTON, D.C. — Despite a united front by aviation groups and strong support from many in Congress, general aviation’s struggle over fuel taxes and a proposed $100 per flight user fee for business flights is reaching a higher pitch as the federal government intensifies its attempts to reduce the federal deficit.
The Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction — nicknamed the “Super Committee” — created several months ago when Congress attempted to reduce trillions of dollars of federal debt, must make its recommendations by Nov. 23. Chances that an agreement will be reached by the 12 committee members, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, are seen by many as slim to none.
A public opinion poll released Nov. 3 says an overwhelming 67% of American voters think the committee will not come up with a debt reduction plan. But if it does, 48% say that the solution should include only spending cuts and no tax increases. The poll was conducted by Quinnipiac University.
The Super Committee is charged with coming up with at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade. Defense and entitlements would not be touched if the committee reaches this goal. If 51% of the Super Committee members endorse the proposal, it will go up for a vote in both Houses of Congress before Dec. 21 with no amendments of filibusters permitted. If the committee does produce a plan and it becomes law but is less that $1.2 trillion, defense and entitlements are open game.
If the Super Committee cannot agree on a report, or if that report does not become law, spending will be lowered by $1.2 trillion with half the savings coming from defense and entitlements and the other half from the remainder of the budget.
If the speculation is correct and no report is produced, or if the report falls short of the mandatory reductions, cuts, taxes, and fees will be fair game.
There have been few leaks about what the Super Committee’s report will be. This is to prevent any large-scale arguments or debates before the report is released. Still, lobbying, advertising and arm twisting have been rampant. Opposition to any tax increase seems to be softening. At least 100 members of Congress have signed on to allow tax increases.
In all of this, general aviation has at least two areas of concern: Reduced expenditures and increased taxes or fees. The FAA’s reauthorization — now on its 22nd short-term extension — is due to come up again in January. Any reduction could seriously delay or detour the NextGen air traffic modernization program, disrupt license issuances, delay certification of aircraft, parts, or programs. For pilots and aircraft owners, potential problems could be a higher fuel tax or imposition of the President’s proposal to place a $100 fee on each flight.
It is because of these concerns that general aviation groups are continuing to lobby hard and urge their members to forcefully ask their senators and representatives to keep GA’s payments in the form of fuel taxes.
Many members of Congress support aviation. Early in October, 134 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter to the Super Committee expressing opposition to the President’s $100 per flight fee. Others have gone on record as opposing increased fuel taxes.
GA has fought taxes and fees for several decades under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Never before, however, has the financial situation been as it is today with such a massive deficit. Pilots, aircraft owners, businesses using general aviation, others depending on it, and state and local governments would do well to make their concerns and needs known to political leaders and the general public.
If all this seems confusing and difficult to understand, comedian Will Rogers said it well years ago: “Common sense is not an issue in politics; it is an affliction.”
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.