Maybe next year....those politicans!
Filed at 6:03 p.m. EST
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Last-minute objections from the Senate have
again thwarted an agreement, months in the making, on a three-year, $40
billion aviation bill that includes a raise in passenger taxes, more money
for small airports and more flights out of several of the nation's busiest
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, accused the House of altering the
compromise to add a new parliamentary barrier to funding aviation
programs at levels below what the Aviation Trust Fund take in every
Stevens, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee that
determines spending levels every year, said he was ``really pained'' and
that eight or nine senators would join him in opposing the compromise.
``It's untenable for many of us that it was rewritten after an agreement
had been reached.''
The House has given its approval to the massive bill to authorize Federal
Aviation Administration safety, building and operating programs and
House sources said the language that Stevens objected to had been
carefully worked out among congressional leaders.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., who mediated differences
between the House and the Senate on the FAA bill, said he had hoped to
bring the compromise to the Senate floor on Tuesday or Wednesday, but
the Stevens holdout has placed the bill ``in jeopardy.''
Still, there was momentum for reaching a deal. Transportation Secretary
Rodney Slater said in a statement that he was pleased the negotiators
were close and said the bill was a ``giant step'' toward improving aviation
safety and efficiency, expanding capacity, enhancing competition and
improving rural air service.
Federal funds for new airport projects have been held up since the fiscal
year began last Oct. 1 because the two chambers were unable to
reconcile differences in the amount of funding and the future of the
Aviation Trust Fund, which takes in some $10 billion a year in user fees.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., and his
House allies wanted to remove the trust fund from the general budget,
ensuring that all the money coming into the fund goes to aviation
The Senate wouldn't go along with that, but in a compromise announced
earlier this week the two sides agreed that annual appropriations for
aviation projects would at least equal revenues and interest from the trust
Aviation spending in the coming fiscal year would be $12.7 billion, up
$2.7 billion from this year.
They also agreed that airports would be allowed to increase their
passenger taxes, called Passenger Facility Charges, from the current
ceiling of $3 per person to $4.50. If all airports imposed the increase, it
could bring in up to $700 million more a year for local construction and
Airports Council International president David Z. Plavin said raising the
cap was ``crucial in helping airports increase competition, lower fares
and provide for a safe and efficient air transport system.''
Shuster had sought to double the cap to $6, but the Senate negotiators,
led by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman and Republican
presidential hopeful John McCain of Arizona, were against any increase.
McCain, said his spokeswoman Pia Pialorsi, was against any tax
House officials briefing on the bill said airports seeking to raise their
passenger fees must show that the increase would significantly help
safety, capacity, noise abatement or security and that they needed
funding above what they receive under the Airport Improvement
The bill would nearly double funds authorized for the AIP, which finances
airport modernization, with the minimum entitlement for smaller airports
going from $500,000 to $1 million.
The legislation would also eliminate the ``high density rule'' established in
1969 to limit flights out of New York's Kennedy and LaGuardia and
Chicago's O'Hare, going into effect in 2007 in New York and 2002 in
Chicago. Past FAA bills had been held up by local lawmakers strongly
opposed to increasing flights out of those airports.
Slots -- one slot is a landing or takeoff -- at Washington's Reagan
National Airport would be increased by 24, with 12 of those reserved
for flights beyond the 1,250-mile ``perimeter rule'' in place since 1986.
McCain had pushed hard for this as part of an effort to increase flights to
smaller, less competitive airports.
The bill would also provide loan guarantees for regional jets that serve
The legislation also amends the 1920 Death on the High Seas Act which
bars families of those lost in air disasters -- such as the 1996 TWA 800
crash that killed 230 people -- from collecting non-economic damages.
Under the bill, the 1920 law would not apply to air crashes within 12
nautical miles of the U.S. shoreline. It would be retroactive to the day
before the TWA crash.