Senate Republicans and Democrats united in criticism yesterday of President Bush's proposal to increase security fees on airline tickets, saying that the costs of securing the nation's aviation system should be paid for by government.
Bush has proposed adding $3 to the existing $2.50 fee airline passengers pay for each flight. Fees would be capped at $8 for one-way tickets that involve multiple stops, and at $16 for a round-trip ticket.
Lawmakers yesterday said they opposed the proposed fee increase because it would not provide additional funds to improve airline security. Instead, the estimated $1.5 billion raised by the new fee would simply replace funds now provided by the government. No senators voiced support, and some representing rural areas argued that their constituents would be hit disproportionately hard because nonstop air service is not available from many of the communities. Passengers who need to connect through a hub airport to reach their destination would incur twice the fees as those who fly nonstop because the fee is levied for each flight segment.
David M. Stone, assistant secretary of the Transportation Security Administration, told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee yesterday that the suggested fee is "in the interest of fairness and equity" because airline travelers who use the system should shoulder more of the costs than taxpayers.
Under Bush's proposal, airline travelers would provide 73 percent of the total government funds for airport security screening, compared with 36 percent currently paid by passengers. Bush's budget would also reduce the amount that airlines pay for security to $350 million from the $750 million the government expects to receive in fiscal 2005.
If passengers are expected to pay more for airline security, they should see some benefit, several lawmakers said. "One of my disappointments is I can't identify, as a passenger, any significant improvements in technology" at the airport checkpoint, said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "I don't see any real difference except now I have to take off my jacket as well as my shoes."
Stone said the agency is working to acquire more explosive detection technologies, such as walk-through detectors like the one installed last week at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, for use at dozens of airports this year.
Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) said the TSA should reconsider its fee model because people who live in rural areas often have little choice but to take connecting flights, thus paying additional fees. "It's fundamentally unfair to people in rural areas because there's no nonstop flights," Dorgan said.