I’ve just returned to the office following a meeting with the U.S. Senate Democratic Policy and Steering Group. Seventeen members of the Senate participated in the meeting including the Senate Majority Leader and Majority Whip. Also participating were about 15-20 leaders from various transportation organizations. Las Vegas Airport Director Randy Walker and I were the aviation representatives in the room.
I sat next to former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell who chairs an organization called Building America’s Future. Rendell is a real leader on infrastructure issues, and credits the investments Pennsylvania has made in its infrastructure for the fact that his state’s unemployment rate is noticeably below the national average, a rarity for an industrial state these days. (This point is exactly the same as I made in my speech at Airport Cities in Memphis, and various places since; businesses invest and grow where there is a demonstrated commitment to high quality infrastructure.)
Building on a comment by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) about all the investment in airports around the world, I spoke to the group about the fact that U.S. policy right now stands in the way of airports making full use of their ability to invest in infrastructure. By capping the PFC user fee, this country is leaving billions on the table that could be invested in our future, not just the funds that could be raised directly through the fee, but also the funds that could be leveraged. I also stated that we are going on 19 FAA extensions, that this has had the effect of reducing investment and destroying jobs, and that the House bill would go even further in that direction.
Randy was next and pointed out that reliance on user fees to finance infrastructure is the method used in many parts of the world where they are investing in infrastructure, and the current U.S. policy is holding us back. He pointed to specific examples in Las Vegas, half of the $5 billion invested out there over the last 20 years comes from the PFC user fee, either as pay-go projects or that was the result of leveraging. There is much more work to do, but he is being stymied by current policy. Randy also pointed out that the PFC user fee, even if increased, pales in comparison to paying $35 or more to check bags, a point that hit home with the senators.
My point about current U.S. policy standing in the way of airports investing in the future and Randy’s point about the airlines charging for bags but standing in the way of this investment struck a chord, I believe. We will be following up quickly and strongly on these points. We are also designing a public campaign to build support for infrastructure investment; stay tuned on that front!