Legislation to authorize increased funds for airport construction grants and other Federal Aviation Administration programs has cleared the House, but hurdles remain. The Senate hasn’t finished its version and supporters of the four-year House bill may not have the votes to fend off a possible presidential veto.
Aviation programs and taxes expire Sept. 30. With almost no chance of final action on a four-year bill by then, the House on Sept. 24 also passed a three-month extension to keep grants and tax revenue flowing until a final bill emerges. “We’re limping to the finish line when we should be sprinting,” says Todd Hauptli, American Association of Airport Executives’ senior executive vice president. “We’re still hopeful that we can get a multiyear bill done before Congress leaves for the year.”
The legislation did take a step forward on Sept. 20, when the House approved an FAA bill authorizing $68 billion over four years. That includes $15.8 billion for Airport Improvement Program construction grants, an increase over current levels. Funds are subject to annual appropriations. Industry groups also like House language raising the cap on passenger facility charges, another infrastructure aid source, to $7.00 from $4.50.
In the Senate, the commerce committee has cleared a four-year bill that has the same AIP funding as the House’s. But on PFCs, the Senate panel only would let six airports raise the fees, though without a cap. The Finance Committee on Sept. 21 approved the likely tax title for the Senate’s eventual aviation package, but floor action doesn’t seem imminent.
After the full Senate acts, it would negotiate with the House to reconcile differences. “It’s going to be a difficult conference because the bills have some very controversial provisions in them,” says Debby McElroy, Airports Council International-North America’s executive vice president for policy and external affairs. The provisions include House language reopening the contract between air traffic controllers and FAA and changing the labor law that applies to some Federal Express workers.
The Office of Management and Budget issued a veto warning on Sept. 19 concerning the House bill, criticizing its AIP levels as “excessive and unjustified.” OMB also objected to the air traffic controller provision.
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who led House bill opponents, says the measure “is going nowhere,” noting that the 267-151 vote was short of the two-thirds to override a veto. AAAE’s Hauptli says “there are enough controversial labor-related provisions in the House bill that I suspect most of those Republicans voting ‘no’ would hold firm.”