Travel group to GOP: Don’t use TSA fees to pay for highway fix

The U.S. Travel Association is criticizing House Republicans for planning to use fees that are paid by airline passengers for the Transportation Security Administration to pay for an extension of federal highway spending that is set to expire at the end of the month. 

House Republicans unveiled an approximately $8 billion highway patch Monday evening that includes about $3 billion in “savings” from redirecting the TSA fees to the nation’s beleaguered Highway Trust Fund, which is currently set to dip below critical levels July 31. 

U.S. Travel Association President Roger Dow said Tuesday that the travel industry is opposed to the idea of using airport security fees to pay for roads, although it supports the broader goal of extending the federal government’s infrastructure spending. 

{mosads}”The travel community has always stood by a very basic precept: user fees must benefit the users who pay them,” Dow said in a statement. “To say it’s OK to use TSA fees for surface projects because it’s all transportation is just too much of a stretch.”  

Lawmakers are scrambling to prevent an interruption in the nation’s transportation spending because the Department of Transportation has said its Highway Trust Fund will dip below a mandatory critical level of $4 billion at the end of the month. The agency has said crossing that will necessitate a cut-back on payments to state and local governments. 

GOP leaders in the House are proposing a package that relies on $3 billion worth of savings from Transportation Security Administration fees and $5 billion in tax compliance measures to road projects through Dec. 18. 

The Senate, meanwhile, has worked on a longer, six-year, $275 billion transportation funding measure, but lawmakers in the upper chamber have yet not revealed how their legislation would be paid for. 

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) described the proposed infrastructure spending offsets as “a package that kind of innocuous, boring stuff that shouldn’t be a surprise to people” last week. 

Dow said Tuesday he disagrees that dipping into the TSA’s funding is harmless, though. 

“Even though a long-term fix would be highly preferable, no one disagrees that highways funding needs to be extended in the short term as well,” he said. “But robbing tomorrow’s flyer to pay for today’s driver does not a viable funding model make.” 

The traditional source of transportation funding has been revenue from the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax. The tax has not been increased since 1993, though, and has struggled to keep pace with construction costs as vehicles have become more fuel-efficient. 

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in about $34 billion annually at its current rate. 

Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to close the $16 billion annual gap, but transportation advocates have argued the resulting temporary patches are preventing states from undertaking badly needed large construction projects. 

Transportation advocates have pushed Congress to increase the gas tax for the first time in two decades to pay for a long-term infrastructure funding extension, but GOP lawmakers have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump. 

Tags Gas Tax Highway bill Highway Trust Fund MAP-21 Reauthorization Paul Ryan Roger Dow Transportation Security Administration U.S. Travel Association

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