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Increasing the passenger facility charge at airports is a bad deal for Mainers

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With a humming U.S. economy and airline traffic at an all-time high, the nation’s airports are collecting record revenues and investing heavily in renovating facilities to improve the traveler experience – just look at Maine.

Last year, more than 2.13 million passengers travelled through Portland International Jetport, making it the all-time busiest year in the jetport’s history. Overall traffic at the jetport was up 14.6 percent year-over-year, surpassing the then-record 1.86 million passengers in 2017. More passengers means more money spent on parking tickets, food, clothing and more. And that means more money in airport coffers.

There simply isn’t a crisis in airport funding and the government should not look to passengers, who are already overburdened with taxes and fees, to finance airport infrastructure.

But that hasn’t stopped Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-04) from pushing a measure in Congress that would increase something called the passenger facility charge (PFC), a hidden tax people pay each time they fly in order to fund airport improvement projects nationwide.

If Rep. DeFazio gets his way, the PFC could soon be doubled and, in the process, impose an additional cost of $144 on a family of four for a connecting flight. Taxes, fees, and other government charges already make up over 20 percent of the cost of an average domestic flight.

But we all want safe, modern, clean airports, right?

Of course. And here’s the reality: airports do not need an additional stream of funds. Here in Maine, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) just awarded 10 Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants to airports throughout the state. That’s millions of dollars now sitting in the pockets of airports. And nearly $7 billion of uncommitted funds sits in the Airport and Airway Trust Fund designated strictly for renovations.

Airports are flush with cash. In 2017 alone, airports took in nearly $30 billion in revenue, growing 47 percent on a per-passenger basis since 2000.

Thanks to Sen. Susan Collins, airline travel is booming across the state, airport modernization projects are widespread, and the local economy is thriving. As Chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, she was instrumental in securing an additional $1 billion in AIP funding last year prioritized for small and non-primary airports such as Biddeford, Eastport, and Newton Field.

Rep. DeFazio’s plan is a bad idea, but not just because it’s bad economics. It’s wrong in principle, as well. Increasing the PFC would disproportionately punish travelers from rural states, like Maine.

That’s because travelers pay the PFC every time they board a plane, including their connecting flights. That kind of money will add up quickly for families booking vacations or business travelers whose jobs require them to regularly be on the road. Increasing the PFC also runs the risk of discouraging air travel altogether and forcing families who rely on low-cost flight options to turn to other modes of transportation. The American Consumer Institute argues a PFC increase would cause the number of air passengers to drop by 7.5 million in 2019.

The takeaway couldn’t be clearer: the PFC proposal will harm Mainers and undermine the work by Sen. Collins to revitalize the Maine economy. There simply isn’t a shortage of money and U.S. airports are well positioned to address capital needs now and in the future.

If airports get their tax increase, the sky is the limit.

About Jon Kinney

Jonathan Kinney formerly served in the Maine House of Representatives as the representative of District 22 from 2012 to 2018.

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