House Rejects New Air Passenger Fees, Funds NextGen Air Systems

The House Appropriations Committee yesterday released the fiscal year 2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development funding bill, which includes funding for the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other related agencies.

In total, the bill reflects an allocation of $52 billion in discretionary spending — an increase of $1.2 billion above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and a decrease of $7.8 billion below the president’s budget request.

The bill includes $17.1 billion in discretionary appropriations for the Department of Transportation for fiscal year 2015. This is $727.3 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $5.8 billion below the president’s request. Within this amount, funding is prioritized for:

Highways: The bill provides nearly $40.25 billion from the Highway Trust Fund to be spent on the Federal Highway program.

Air: The legislation provides $15.7 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is $7.3 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $446 million above the request. This will provide full funding for all air traffic control personnel, including 14,800 air traffic controllers, 7,300 safety inspectors and operational support personnel. It also fully funds the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation Systems (NextGen) at $852.4 million, and rejects the Obama Administration’s proposals for new passenger facility and general aviation fees.

Rail: The Federal Railroad Administration is funded at $1.4 billion, a reduction of $193 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. This includes $340 million for Amtrak operations — which will continue service for all current routes — and $850 million for capital grants. The bill also continues policy reforms for Amtrak, such as requiring overtime limits on Amtrak employees to reduce unnecessary costs, and prohibiting federal funding for routes where Amtrak offers a discount of 50 percent or more off normal, peak fares. No funding is provided for High-Speed Rail.

Transit: The bill provides for $10.5 billion for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which is $253 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. A total of $1.7 billion is provided for Capital Investment Grants (“New Starts”), full funding for all current “Full Funding Grant Agreement” transit projects, and full funding for all state and local “Small Starts” projects that will begin in fiscal year 2015. These programs provide competitive grant funding for major transit capital investments — including rapid rail, light rail, bus rapid transit and commuter rail — that are planned and operated by local communities.

Although it lacks funding for high-speed rail — a major industry priority — the travel industry applauded the bill, which will be considered in subcommittee today.

“Business travelers already carry a heavy burden of fees and taxation. GBTA research showed fees levied on travel-related services last year increased the total tax bill for business travelers by 58 percent,” Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Executive Director and COO Michael W. McCormick said in a statement. “Supporting the Administration’s request to increase Passenger Facility Charges to $8 for every passenger on top of last year’s doubled TSA fee could have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.”

GBTA also praised the bill’s FAA funding. “GBTA is pleased with the continued investments in the FAA and NextGen, which will help ease congestion in the skies, reduce delays and continue to keep the U.S. economy moving,” McCormick concluded.

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