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Could Congressional Compromise Lead to Increased Airfare?

Just two days after blogging about how Congressional gridlock led to reduced taxes on airfare, it seems we may be getting our comeuppance: Congress is working on a deal that could more than double security fees on airlines tickets. The result is obvious: we will all pay more for airfare. But is an increase in fees necessary?

Congress is hammering out a deal that seeks to address the growing debt problem in America. One of the overarching themes of the debate has been a push to reduce the federal government's footprint in areas where it has not traditionally assumed an active role. That places the Department of Homeland Security--established less than a decade ago--on the hit list.

DHS spends about $1.8BN a year on aviation related security and only 40% of that money comes from the $10 passengers security fees levied on round-trip commercial airline tickets. The rest comes from general congressional appropriation. Multiple attempts to raise the security fee have failed over the last few years. But that might soon change:

According to sources with knowledge of the talks and documents circulating on Capitol Hill, a proposal would double the security fee paid by airline passengers to raise at least $15 billion over 10 years. The current maximum fee imposed on commercial flights is $10 per round-trip ticket.

As if another $10 per round-trip ticket to fund the TSA's growth is not bad enough,

Other proposals that have been discussed would impose a $25 fee for each commercial and private aircraft departure.

When I first read that I thought they meant per passenger, but even charging $25 per aircraft will lead to increased costs for consumers and also harm private civil aviation. Does a guy who takes his Piper out for a joy ride on a Sunday afternoon really need to chip in to pay for the TSA?

The imbalance between expenditures and revenue for government-administered aviation security is a real problem. But is the problem really that DHS does not have enough money or that they are not using the money they have appropriately?

You know my feelings on the TSA so I won't rehash them today, but I think the TSA budget is already bloated and the workforce is too big. With the TSA encompassing the majority of DHS's aviation security budget, I see pay raises, promos for TSA personnel rather than any true improvement in security if the passenger security fees are hiked.

While I am rooting for a grand compromise in Washington that will address the debt ceiling issue while ushering in genuine reforms that will steer the U.S. budget toward balance and foster economic growth, I earnestly hope that any compromise will not include higher airline security fees. Until Congress clearly justifies why increased fees are necessary, I see no evidence that they would even be slightly helpful.

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