Planes, taxes, and bureaucrats

Then, if a company chooses to tell you how much these taxes cost, the DOT has made it harder and less obvious.  Under the DOT’s new rule, the cost of taxes and fees on a ticket “may not be displayed prominently” and must “be presented in significantly smaller type than the listing of the total price.”  Rules like this make you think that the federal government wants it to be tougher for us to know what taxes we’re paying on a ticket.  So the question remains, why?  Could it be that it would be easier for the federal government to raise taxes and fees without our notice?

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Never mind that the federal government shouldn’t be in the business of telling the private sector how taxes should be shared with customers.  We’re already dealing with a similar situation every time we fill up our cars, trucks, and tractors.  

Let’s take a look at what’s going on in my home state of Georgia.  Right now, the average price for a gallon of gas is about $3.45.  But, only two-thirds of the price to fill up your tank actually goes toward the cost of bringing gasoline to market.  The rest is comprised of taxes and fees: state excise tax, federal excise tax, state and local sales taxes, and more.  And every time the price goes up at the pump, it’s hard to know whether the increase is due to the rising cost of oil – or the rising cost of government.  It’s the same story all across our Union.

My fear is that we’re heading down this same road with the DOT’s new rule governing airline ticket pricing.  The more latitude we give government bureaucracies like the Department of Transportation, the higher the likelihood the government will engage in a shell game of hiding increases in federal taxes and fees.  And, since we may not be aware of these increases, their natural response would be to point a finger at the airlines for higher ticket prices, rather than at themselves for raising taxes.

If the goal of the DOT’s rule is to prevent companies from deceiving passengers about the total cost of a ticket, then let’s be honest, upfront, and transparent about where all the charges originate.  Let’s give companies that sell airline tickets the freedom to offer consumers a line-by-line accounting for the price of an airfare – just like the bill you get when you check out of a hotel room or return your rental car.  Why resort to regulations mandating fine print?  There’s no doubt that making taxes and fees invisible or hard to find will decrease transparency, while the temptation to sneak in higher taxes takes.  Buckle your seatbelt.  This could be a bumpy ride.

Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) is a member of the Appropriations Committee.

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