House Democrats are working on a continuing resolution to extend federal spending at fiscal 2008 levels through March 6, including a potential stopgap measure to continue for five months the Federal Aviation Administration's authority to provide grants that are sometimes used in conjunction with tax-exempt bonds for airport projects.
The House Appropriations Committee said yesterday that it expects to bring up the legislation sometime this week, while the House minority whip's schedule listed a continuing appropriations bill for possible consideration this morning. The current fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
Airport lobbyists are hoping that the legislative doubling-up of FAA and airport funding - the continuing resolution and a stand-alone bill that passed in the House yesterday - will provide a greater chance of securing funds through the spring.
"We are employing what is called the 'belt-and-suspenders technique,' " said Todd Hauptli, senior executive vice president of the American Association of Airport Executives.
The stand-alone FAA bill that passed by a voice vote in the House yesterday, and was expected to be considered by the Senate as early as today, would extend the FAA's ability to collect taxes and spend a total of more than $7.5 billion through the end of March. If it wins Senate approval, the FAA stopgap bill would supercede the continuing resolution in terms of funding authorization, according to lobbyists and congressional staffers.
"Without it, we're going to be waiting until early next year at the earliest until the FAA can dole out funds," said Brad Van Dam, vice president of federal affairs for the Airport Legislative Alliance of AAAE.
The FAA extension includes $1.95 billion for the Airport Improvement Program, a bond-related capital program, as well as a provision to continue for six months the levying of ticket taxes and fuel taxes that fund the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. Unlike provisions in the draft continuing resolution, it also would continue a program authorized at $35 million per year that allows certain small communities to receive federal funds for air service development if they experience a cut in air service.
Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., said yesterday the bill would allow the House and Senate more time during the next session - when the new presidential administration will be somewhat settled - to hammer out a longer-term reauthorization for federal aviation.
Congress passed a continuing resolution last year extending federal funding at fiscal 2007 levels, and it was signed into law by the President by the end of September. Similarly, the FAA has been kept afloat by stopgap measures since September 2007. The last extension was passed at the end of June.
Under the Airport Improvement Program, the federal government provides grants to public agencies and in some cases private entities, to plan and develop airports for public use. The program covers about 75% of project costs for large and medium primary hub airports, and about 95% of eligible costs for smaller airports. Funding for the program is drawn from the airport and airway trust fund that relies on revenue from sources such as user fees and fuel taxes.
Grants from the AIP are sometimes used to back tax-exempt bonds, but more often supplement other funding sources such as bond proceeds and state and local grants.
States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have been allocated a combined total of about $267.7 million in AIP funding during this fiscal year, with about $45.5 million apportioned since July.
Capital improvement and repair projects are eligible for AIP funding, as are the necessary planning, surveying, and design services for projects.
Airports must be open to the public and publicly-owned, or privately-owned but with scheduled service and at least 2,500 boardings per year or FAA-designated as a reliever airport. Additionally, the AIP funding is restricted to airports that have been deemed "important to public transportation" and that contribute to certain domestic needs.