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"Ways and Means Votes to Retain Current Aviation Financing System"



Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ways and Means Votes to Retain Current Aviation Financing System 
By Kathryn A. Wolfe
Congressional Quarterly Today 


The House Ways and Means Committee approved legislation Tuesday that rejects
the Bush administration's call for a sweeping overhaul of the way the
nation's aviation system is financed.

The measure (HR 3539), approved by voice vote, would retain the current
financing system and raise aviation fuel taxes from 19.3 cents per gallon to
24.1 cents per gallon. The new revenue would be dedicated to air traffic
control modernization.

The measure is expected to be added to a larger reauthorization bill
covering the Federal Aviation Administration (HR 2881) through fiscal 2011.
That bill is scheduled for floor consideration Thursday. The Rules Committee
will consider the FAA bill Wednesday.

John L. Mica of Florida, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation
and Infrastructure Committee, said the panel's leadership scheduled a
meeting Tuesday evening to hash out some remaining issues before the Rules
markup, including how to tighten rules for aircraft repair stations and
whether to allow certain airport funds to be spent on bicycle racks and
bicycle paths.

Mike Thompson, D-Calif., is working to get more protections for passengers
stranded aboard airplanes, such as a guarantee of clean water. He said the
Transportation and Infrastructure panel's leaders have agreed to entertain
some of the changes he is seeking, although he refused to elaborate.

"That's embargoed until Wednesday," he said.

The White House had proposed replacing the current system of fuel and ticket
taxes with new fees that would be more closely tied with actual usage of the
air traffic control system, such as per-flight charges based on distance
traveled. The administration said the shift was necessary to fund system
upgrades to handle increasing volumes of air traffic.

'Buying ... More Time' 

Ways and Means ranking Republican Jim McCrery of Louisiana said he hoped
there would be an opportunity to consider more changes to the financing
system during conference with the Senate.

"It's not the bill I would have written had we had more time to get into
details and craft a more cost-based reform," he said. "But by doing this
today we're essentially buying this committee some more time."

Ways and Means also approved a bill (HR 3540) by voice vote that would
extend the FAA's authorization through Dec. 31, allowing the agency to
collect, at current rates, the excise taxes that fund most of its budget.
The current authorization (PL 108-176) expires Sept. 30, and Congress must
act before then to keep funds flowing into the system.

The rule for floor consideration of the broader FAA bill may contain
language that would automatically pass the extension when the rule is
adopted.

The Senate Finance Committee also might mark up its version of the tax
provisions this week, possibly Thursday. The Senate Commerce, Science and
Transportation Committee approved its underlying FAA bill (S 1300) on May
16.

It is unclear when the Senate might act on a short-term reauthorization. 

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. Wednesday in H-313
Capitol.

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