The message from the White House came and went so quickly last week that some people thought it was actually a mistake. But like the ghosts in A Christmas Carol, the release of a draft of The Transportation Opportunities Act (TOA), actually did happen and was probably not an accident as some insiders claim. Despite the draft status – as well as the fact that it was quickly yanked out of circulation – the proposed legislation offers yet another glimpse at what President Obama and DOT Secretary Ray LaHood might have in store for the aviation industry.
The TOA was actually written about opportunities to increase high-speed rail and highway infrastructure improvements, which to the President spells jobs. It’s in the objective section where things begin to look a bit murky, like the part about funding the plan with user-fees. Of course, this is about fees tied to driving, but the leap to aviation user-fees is not very far and should be making quite a few of us uncomfortable about now. We’ve been down this road before with President Obama, as well as his predecessor George Bush.
The Obama Administration withdrew the TOA within a day of being released claiming nothing inside the bill was set in stone. The idea of funding the highway system with user fees isn’t completely crazy though and certainly not to a White House staring a huge budget deficit square in the eye.
The aviation industry is already a strategic mess as parts of our infrastructure and even NextGen suffer from the agonizing debate that is the FAA Reauthorization process. Even if it passes soon, that bill is all about the near future. What happens in a few years when we are still short of cash, when people wake up and realize how little cash – even with the increase in fuel taxes that was passed last year – we’re putting away to fund the future?
Do you honestly believe the White House won’t pull the user-fee rabbit out of its hat the same way they tried before … the same way the Bush White House saw those fees as an airline-prompted method of grabbing a little more cash from general and business aviation?
Return of the debate on user-fees is not an if — it’s a when.
Rob Mark, publisher