An administration proposal to reinstate -- and in some cases increase--airport user fees and taxes has come to a dead halt in the House Ways and Means Committee because only one Republican on the panel is willing to support even a compomise measure.
Rep. Daniel Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), the chairman, had been planning to take up the measure today, but without any significant GOP support on the controversial bill, he has postponed action indefinitely.
Rostenkowski's decision was backed by Rep. Barber B. Conable Jr. (R-N.Y.), the ranking Republican and the cosponsor with Rostenkowski of a compromise bill. "He's right," Conable said. "The administration had better evince more interest than just requesting it . . . It's up to the administration at this point" to bring some more Republicans on board behind the bill, he added.
A key Republican staff aide said "there are mixed views" towards the legislation, and added that "it has sort of screeched to a halt."
The bill is a part of the larger effort to reduce the deficit. Over three years it would raise nearly $2.5 billion. In addition, it is also an integral part of the Reagan administration's program to get the users of specific government services, instead of the general taxpayer, to pay for them directly.
Delaying the legislation, or killing it altogether, will benefit airplane passengers, freight shippers and noncommercial aircraft--general aviation. The general aviation lobby is one of the most affluent and effective on Capitol Hill. Not only are many members of Congress pilots themselves but, more importantly, many depend on private planes to get around in their districts.
At a preliminary committee session last week when the legislation was amended and prepared for floor action, lukewarm committee support was evident. One of the leading critics was Rep. W. Henson Moore (R-La.), who argued strenuously that there is no need for a major increase in user fees and taxes because the Airport and Airway Trust Fund is running a large surplus.
The unobligated balance in the fund at the end of the 1980 fiscal year was $3.8 billion. This year it is expected to drop to $2.9 billion.
The administration, however, contends that under existing law only about one-quarter of the $2 billion cost of airport operations and maintenence is paid out of the fund. In separate legislation, the administration has proposed financing about 85 percent of operations and maintenence costs out of the fund; and a House Public Works Committee bill would raise the amount to 50 percent.
In addition, the administration and other critics have argued that the existing tax and fee structure places a disporportionate share of the burden of financing the trust fund on passengers and none on non-commercial-jet users, only a token tax on gasoline on propeller-driven planes and none on freight.
The administration first proposed the user fees in the initial drive to cut spending by a total of $35 billion. Although Congress generally acceeded to the cuts in social programs, the effort to raise fees paid by aircraft owners, boat operators and other beneficiaries of federal programs was killed altogether after intense lobbying.
The administration bill, which does not have much chance of passing intact, would raise the existing passenger ticket tax from 5 percent to 6 1/2 percent and the 4-cent-a-gallon tax on propeller-aircraft gasoline up to 12 cents, growing to 36 cents by 1985. In addition, there would be a 5 percent airfreight waybill tax, a $3 charge to passengers for international departures, and a progressively increasing tax on noncommercial jet fuel starting at 20 cents a gallon and rising to 65 cents in 1985.
The Rostenkowski-Conable compromise would keep the passenger ticket tax at 5 percent, make the freight waybill tax 5 percent, make the international departure fee $5 and set a flat 12-cent-a-gallon tax on all noncommercial fuel.