The National Governors Association (NGA) is meeting in Washington right now. When I was in state government in Virginia, I was very involved in these meetings and I know the three-day NGA Washington meeting is among the most substantive and important on the calendar here in D.C.
The meeting comes just days after the President signed the stimulus bill. On Saturday, the governors held a debate on infrastructure investment, sponsored by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. I had dinner the night before with former Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles, my former boss who is the Director of the Miller Center and who persuaded Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell to hold the debate. Rendell is chair of the NGA. That event, part of the Miller Center’s debate series, will air on PBS sometime in the next few weeks. There is a lot of talk at the governors’ meeting about investment in infrastructure.
As I was preparing earlier this week for a presentation to the board of directors of Jacksonville Airport Authority, I thought a lot about the NGA and the infrastructure debate. I thought about the work I have done on this topic over the years, including one high level commission in 1992 that recommended more than $10 billion in new infrastructure spending annually (over and above what was already authorized) — and was criticized for being TOO TIMID! Times have changed.
Aviation is the transportation mode that is best able to generate its own investment, whether from the ticket tax, from the passenger facility charge (PFC), from airport bonds, or from airport revenues. Yet, incredibly, our users, as represented by the airlines oppose generating resources for investment. To me, this is incredible! I have never met a passenger who feels we have more infrastructure than we need, but airlines have largely succeeded in pushing the passenger out of the way in this debate.
Airports do not need new general tax dollars to invest in our nation’s economic future. (Though the general fund should support more of the FAA’s operating budget than it does now, but that is the subject for a future piece). Airports are ready to go. Congress, by allowing more bond financing in the stimulus bill, has already made a start, and can go even further by raising the limit on the PFC user fee (local money that is project based and does not support a bureaucracy).
I was on a flight last week and was told I could have a blanket — for $7!! It came with ear plugs and eye shades and a drawstring bag with the airlines’ logo on it. And the airlines don’t want Congress to add $2.50 to the PFC limit to build runways, taxiways, terminals and other important infrastructure. Is there a group of passengers out there who really believe we have all the infrastructure we need and has been pushing for that $7 blanket bag? I doubt it.