Saturday, May 16, 2009

We need to talk, Mr. President...

...because signs of misinformation -- OK, make that outright errors -- appear all over the FAA budget proposal your Administration released May 12. It makes a body wonder whether a truly bright, facts-based judgment is lacking because of bad advice from folks at The Office of Management & Budget, DoT...somewhere.

Those signs appear in some goals the FAA budget proposal cites.

First off, in the past two months your Administration twice published FAA budget blueprints outlining a move to funding the agency from direct user fees...your May 12 blueprint, at $9.6 billion annually in fees starting in 2011 came in almost $2 billion higher than the first one; OK, funding the FAA at a higher level to meet ambitious goals for NextGen and ADS-B is fine by most of us -- long as the FAA actually makes a buck's worth of progress for every buck spent...heck, we'd probably be singing praises at $0.80 worth per buck...but I digress.

Second, along the way the blueprint calls for reducing the public coffers of the General Fund to about 10 percent...

So we go along flying, happy and serving the country's 4,500 or so non-airline airports through 2010, paying our way with excise taxes and General Fund contributions -- and suddenly we cut the public share and shift to $9.6 million in Direct User Fees? Uh, how much of that $9.6 million does the OMB feel will be left to actually use for FAA needs? $9 billion? $8.75 billion? $9.25 billion?

We respectfully ask this question 'cause for every buck collected in aviation excise taxes it costs our good Federal Government fractions of a penny to administer and account the most-conservative estimates, the costs of creating a system to Track Use/Users, Bill For, Collect, Account and Handle that $9.6 billion in Direct User Fees is gonna cost us about 1000 percent more -- a not-insubstantial 3 percent...or more; as noted, the estimates tend to play down the costs so they're conservative.

Now by my math, 3 percent of $9.6 billion comes to about $288 billion! Now if that's low by even the tiniest bit, we're looking at $300 million; compared to the three hundredths of a percent the excise taxes cost -- about $3 million -- to handle the current Excise Taxes levied, this is categorically not a smart-government example. It's not even a good business model.

And, on top of reducing the funds available to the FAA through the genius of Direct User Fees your people propose reducing the General Fund contribution -- while they also propose raising public funding for roads and rails and rivers.

What did General Aviation ever do to America to deserve the treatment of a shunned relative?

It's as if suddenly General Aviation was an enemy of the people -- in the irony-tinged way of an Ibsen title -- when every unbiased survey and study demonstrates that private aviation contributes mightily to the nation's well being, from economic to industrial to philanthropic.

Like the guy Bill at breakfast this morning. He recently rented a private aircraft, paid his own money, to fly a medical patient four hours home from treatment in a local hospital. Now recognizing that somewhere some airline executive gnashes teeth at the thought of some kind soul depriving his company of a paying passenger out some feel-good motivation, this pilot Bill also paid to use the Air Traffic System by paying excise taxes on the 150 gallons or so of avgas the plane used...and he didn't even use the system. Didn't need to.

But he gets no dispensation from the Excise Taxes and felt no real pain paying those Excise Taxes -- contained, as they were, in the cost of the fual...oh, yeah -- the Excise Taxes were proportional to his time in the sky, since that Excise Tax payment was keyed to the fuel purchased, which was in direct relationship to the time the engine ran...

Simple, eh? So simple even Congressmen, Congresswomen and Senators figured this out a half-dozen White House occupants back...

And about this reduction in the General Fund contribution: somewhere some errant soul is likely to resurrect or otherwise cite a study undertaken by the Reagan Administration that "concluded" that there is no "public benefit" from aviation...hence, no real justification for any General Fund contribution.

These guys could have justified anything they put their minds to and the White House wanted to sever any linkage between public benefit and aviation so it could sever any relationship between FAA funding and the General Fund.

Between the firefighting aircraft in California this month to the efforts of private aircraft on behalf of the public -- search and rescue, serving communities without commercial service, aeromedical and on and on -- you are smart enough and perceptive enough to understand the falisy of that old study's conclusion.

We even know of a presidential candidate who owes part of his success to the savvy deployment of a private aircraft during the campaign, allowing the connection to cities and towns impossible otherwise. Take a look in a'll see him smiling back at you.

So, Mr. President, please do yourself a favor and, in the process, the American public at-large, and those who fly for fun and for hire: get a second opinion, from some of the committee chairmen on Capitol Hill, from the aviation groups...even the Air Transport Association knows User Fees cost more.

And these fees won't change the problem of shrinking fund contributions when flying itself is declining across the board, commercial and private alike, from the economic malaise.

Check around; you'll learn your proposal is backward and wrong. And then you can do what smart politicians do to succeed: make a new decision.


Adendum: Reader Bob Collins' comment on my post is correct -- mea culpa on my part; calculated it correctly, then wrote it incorrectly...corrected both Billion-versus-Million misstatements...and think the point still holds...guess my brain had trouble believing anything still costs only in the millions in these days of billions and trillions getting so much more mention.


Blogger Bob Collins said...

I'm sure it's a math problem -- maybe at my end -- but I don't think 3 percent of $9.6 billion is $200 billion.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Dave Higdon said...

Bob -- You are correct; my mistake...apologies. Calculated the amount correctly, even wrote it down accurately -- then incorrectly typed in "billion." Thanks for the catch!

1:03 PM  
Blogger chris said...

Are these posts being published anywhere where certain public official(s) may catch wind of it? I believe this choir is behind your comments 110%, but at most we can only hammer away at our representatives little by little.
Well said.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Dave Higdon said...

Chris -- thanks for your comment and support; much appreciated.

Now these posts are as available to the public as anything else on the Net...that said, I'd count as low any probability that the folks that "count" will stumble upon them...

That said...nothing barring listeners and readers from pulling out the url or copy-and-pasting the Blog post and *sending* it to U.S. lawmakers, the DoT, the White House, local newspapers, trade groups -- wherever bright minds might see some benefit...
-- Dave

11:19 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home