Obama’s Aviation Fee Increase is a Stupid Idea

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Ready to pay more in airline fees, thanks to government sloth? The Economist reports on an upcoming increase in aviation fees:

…if the American government’s “Aviation Passenger Security Fee”, currently at $2.50 for each leg of travel, is already annoying you, the Obama administration has some bad news: it won’t be staying at $2.50 for long.

The Homeland Security portion of Obama’s proposed 2010 budget (PDF) includes a plan to raise the fees by an as-yet-undisclosed amount in 2012. The increase, the White House says, is needed because the current fee only funds about 36% of airport security costs.

But the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) opposes the change, claiming that “airport security should be paid for from the general tax fund” and not by user fees. Basically, ACTE is asking that all taxpayers continue to subsidize the cost of providing airport security to some taxpayers. Why? Because when terrorists attack planes, they’re not really attacking the airline industry, they’re attacking all of us, says ACTE executive director Susan Gurley.

Gurley also claims that adding a new tax could inhibit economic recovery. But even if the fee triples so that it covers all airport security costs, it’s hard to see that as the main obstacle preventing a recovery in business travel—the overall economy is going to have to recover first, security fee or no security fee.

The article goes on to ask whether increased user fees or general taxes should fund airline security. How about an unspoken third option, to fix airport security? Years ago, one guy with a shoe bomb resulted in a requirement that people take shoes off before they fly. Then, someone tried to smuggle in a liquid bomb, and the same thing happened. Now, years later, millions of people have to undergo shoe- and liquid security rituals, whether they’re relevant or not.

The TSA’s system is reactionary, but not necessarily smart. A thorough revision of the security system could do wonders for cutting costs. For example, the coded alert system that airport blare over their PAs is completely irrelevant. Every time I travel, an orange alert is in place. Who cares? The system has become meaningless. Cutting out the constant warnings would, when seen in aggregate, save a small amount of electricity and manpower.

What about the liberal number of TSA employees stationed at every airport? When was the last time the TSA audited its staff, which was built up in the post-9-11 years? What about the efficacy of plainsclothes policeman (more common in Great Britain) vs. 2 TSA employees per citizen (I’m exaggerating here, but not by much)? Has anyone considered using the National Guard for airport security instead, now that military enrollment is up again? Finally, is the shoe and liquid thing relevant at every airport in the US, even for domestic flights?

A blind tax hike is a dumb solution to a problem that needs to be assessed, audited, and reorganized. The onus is on the government to do that, not the taxpayer, not the airlines. This was a Bush-era bloat problem that is ready to be revised. The Obama team needs to take a careful look at where to avoid taxes, and the nation’s airports are practically a giveaway place to start.