We pay to use the roads — and to keep them up.
Technically, via the taxes we pay on each gallon of fuel we purchase.
“Technically” in italics because while motor fuels taxes are indeed taxes, they differ from most taxes in being purely voluntary as well as pay-as-you go.
More precisely, pay as you use.
You’re only taxed if you drive — and only when you drive.
It’s a pretty market-based way to pay — even if the thing being paid for is owned/controlled by the government. You’ve got a choice — and the thing you’re paying for is a thing you’re actually using.
You’re not being forced to “help” fund someone else’s road trip.
Airports — the physical buildings, runways, and so on — could be funded on the same pay-as-you-drive basis. Like roads, they’re transportation infrastructure and open to the public. But unlike pay-as-you-drive roads, airports are to a great extent built and maintained by general fund taxes.
Everyone pays in — whether they actually use the airports or not.
There are also taxes collected by the airports (and airlines) who act as bagmen for Uncle Sam. These taxes are sent to Uncle — who maybe sends some of that back.
After much haggling, begging, and hemming and hawing.
Not surprisingly, many American airports are literally crumbling — notwithstanding the taxes and fees paid by airline travelers.
Money’s being collected.
But a great deal of it ends up being wasted.
It’s not being used for new concrete and rebar; to fix existing runways and build new ones. To update facilities and buildings. Air travel in the United States is becoming almost Soviet as a result. Which ought not to be surprising given the command-and-control/top-down Soviet-style way airports are financed and maintained.
The non-partisan Tax Foundation recently released a study pointing out the inefficiencies — and inequities — of the current multi-layered/back-and-forth system of funding airport infrastructure. The paper says it would be more efficient — and more fair — to generate the necessary revenue (or at least, a large percentage of it) via a Passenger Facility Charge (PFC). Instead of collecting money and sending it lump-sum to Washington — and waiting for Washington to send some or all (or none) of it back — the airports would collect the fee and keep the fee.
The fee would be collected from passengers only.
And the money collected this way would only be used to fund upkeep and improvements at that airport — promoting local control.
“It is important to note that this charge is not a tax at all, in any sense of the word,” the report’s authors state. “The charge is neither remitted to nor spent by the federal government, and it is not deposited into the U.S. Treasury. It is a payment made directly to the airports and tied to paying for a specific airport project.”
People would not be forced to pay for services they don’t want or use themselves. And Washington would be cut out of the loop — which is always a plus. Because when Washington is involved, there are always strings attached. Just as bureaucrats in far-away DC who know nothing about the issues and concerns of small towns across the country nonetheless dictate (among other things) “common core” standards in local schools — using federal funding as the bully stick — so also when Washington doles out money for airport improvements and so on, bureaucrats in far-away D.C. end up deciding how the money gets spent.
Not infrequently, the money — whatever’s left of it — ends up being spent on things of secondary or even tertiary importance. And as a result, more money is needed to address the original problem. Air travelers end up paying more — and getting less.
And people who don’t travel by air get to pay, too.
It’s the sort of system Brezhnev (or Obama) might admire. But it’s not the right system for America.
The Tax Foundation’s recommendation of a modest (and directly paid to the airport) PFC charge — currently just $4.50 per ticketed passenger — would re-establish local control and direct needed money to its appropriate object: Keeping American airports from falling apart without shoving a gun under the chin of the American people.