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Thu, Jul 21, 2011

FAA Shutdown Possible Over Union Squabble, Essential Air Service

Agency Operating Authority Expires Friday

An ongoing argument between House and Senate leaders over union organizing rules at FedEx Express and Essential Air Services could lead to a shutdown of the FAA if the most recent continuing resolution funding the agency is allowed to expire on Friday.

Since September 30th, 2007, there have been 20 of the short-term spending bills, known as "CRs", passed by the congress to keep the agency operating ... albeit at 2007 funding levels. Lawmakers have been unable to come to an agreement over how some airline and railroad workers are allowed to unionize. But funding for some small airports, some in states represented by Democratic leaders in the Senate, is now also part of the mix.

The the twenty-first extension of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs was introduced last Friday in the House by Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-FL), Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-WI), and Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI). It has been over 7 and a half years since the last FAA reauthorization was signed into law.
 

“It is unfortunate that we have been put in this position, again, by the current Senate leadership who refuse to negotiate in the best interest of the American public,” Mica said. “When Democrats controlled the House and Senate, Congress also failed to act, and unfortunately Democrat tactics have not changed. Our nation’s aviation system cannot operate effectively under the Senate’s ongoing political gamesmanship.”
 
Mica continued, “House and Senate negotiations on the FAA bill have resulted in significant progress over the last several months. However, it is time for the Senate to put the safety of the traveling public above their own political posturing and paybacks to the labor movement. Clearly, some in the Senate have made a political decision to put special interest labor provisions above the safety of our nation’s aviation system.”
 
“The Essential Air Service provisions included in the extension are limited reforms that target the most indefensible of the subsidies,” Petri said. “We in Congress are trying to find a way forward on addressing our deficit and long-term debt issues, but if we can’t put an end to these extravagant subsidies, then we will never be able to rein in spending where really hard decisions are necessary. How can we justify subsidies of over $1,000 per passenger, or subsidies for communities that are located less than 90 miles from a hub airport? Should we be asked to pay, in essence, $10 per mile in one particular case for someone to avoid driving 82 miles to an airport? This is, in fact, some limited common sense reform to end the most extreme of the EAS subsidies.”
 
This 21st extension, H.R. 2553, maintains current funding levels for the FAA, its employees, and airports across the country through September 16, 2011. The extension also includes a common sense Essential Air Service (EAS) reform provision, which the Senate passed unanimously during Floor consideration earlier this year. This provision, which was section 420 in the Senate’s FAA bill, would limit EAS eligibility to communities that are located 90 or more miles from a large or medium hub airport. It also includes a waiver should the Secretary of Transportation determine that geographic characteristics result in undue difficulty accessing the nearest medium or large hub. This modest reform, already approved by the Senate this year, would eliminate 10 EAS communities located within 90 miles of a medium or large hub airport, resulting in $12.5 million in annual savings.
 
The extension also includes a pro-taxpayer cap on the EAS passenger subsidy provided by the federal government. Setting the subsidy cap at $1,000 per passenger eliminates three additional communities from the EAS program and saves an additional $4.1 million on an annual basis. The current per passenger subsidy rates for these three airports are: Ely, Nevada, $3,720; Alamogordo/Holloman AFB, New Mexico, $1,563; and Glendive, Montana, $1,358.
 
“Given the intransigence of the Senate, their inability to move any piece of substantive legislation, and their unwillingness to compromise, we are compelled to seek rational and modest reform in this extension,” Mica added. “We hope they will pass this extension and come to the table with a renewed sense of purpose for ensuring the safety of our aviation system and passing a long-term FAA reauthorization.”

But the bill was blasted by Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who said Tuesday said he is working to strip a provision in the House FAA extension that hurts small communities nationwide. Rockefeller (pictured, below) reiterated that the House proposed extension cannot pass the Senate leaving open the possibility for a partial agency shutdown if House Republican leaders do not reconsider their position.

“Further efforts to add policy components to FAA extensions that have not been negotiated with the Senate will likely shut the FAA down,” Rockefeller wrote in a letter to Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “You need to think about this very, very carefully. Any consequences resulting from such an action will fall squarely on your shoulders.”
 
Despite efforts to find a bipartisan compromise, Mica last week announced a plan to cut funds for 13 communities that benefit from Essential Air Service (EAS) as retaliation for the Senate’s refusal to accept language on the National Mediation Board that would adversely affect workers’ rights. Rockefeller has long championed the EAS program, which provides a federal subsidy for air carriers to operate out of mostly rural areas. Without this important program, many communities nationwide would not have air service. EAS supports air service to more than 100 communities nationwide.
 
In his letter to Mica, Chairman Rockefeller strongly urged him to reconsider his position by sending over a clean FAA extension and appoint conferees for the FAA reauthorization bill, as the Senate did in April, 2011.

The Associated Press reports that, in the event of an FAA shutdown, the nation's 15,500 air traffic controllers would continue to work, but other employees could be subject to furloughs, and the agency would no longer have to collect the approximately $60 per-round-trip ticket tax. How long employees would be furloughed would depend largely on how much money is in the federal trust fund for aviation account.

FMI: http://commerce.senate,gov, http://transportation.house.gov

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