Rethinking the FAA Budget

I have a new column up on about the FAA reauthorization bill:

The House and Senate are both making the long-overdue reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration a high priority. Unfortunately, the bills they are writing seem blissfully ignorant of the fiscal crisis facing the federal government—a climate in which discretionary general fund spending is in for serious cutbacks.

Like most other federal transportation programs, aviation has traditionally been funded largely by user taxes, including the passenger ticket tax, fuel taxes on private planes, and a variety of other aviation excise taxes. These monies are accounted for in the Aviation Trust Fund, which is the source of capital spending on airports and air traffic control, as well as a large portion of the FAA’s operating budget (roughly corresponding to its air traffic control workforce). Traditionally, aviation user taxes brought in more than 80 percent of the FAA’s budget.

But the last five year have seen an alarming increase in general fund support of FAA. For FY 2011, bills enacted in the last Congress but never reconciled would have required 37 percent (S 223) or 41 percent (HR 915) of the FAA’s total to come from the general fund. Both houses now seem to be on course to pass very similar bills, from a budgetary standpoint. With our current debt and deficits, making the FAA even more dependent on discretionary general fund spending is not sustainable.

Read the rest here.