Utah Businesses Would be Grounded by Airline Tax Cut
July 29, 2009
  • Share
  • Jake Garn


    It has been said time and again that small business is the key to a thriving economy. Utah’s businesses serve as a shining example of how small companies can positively impact local communities and the state as a whole.

    As many businesses have seen the demand for goods and services rise in remote areas, they have invested in small aircraft to transport goods and services. But the big airlines seek to eliminate this tool from the skies and score an enormous tax break from Congress.

    Using the argument that we need to modernize the air traffic control system, the airlines and their mouthpiece, the Air Transport Association, have backed a bill that was drafted and narrowly passed by the Senate Commerce Committee.

    This bill would institute an unnecessary funding system called “user fees” for small aircraft, in addition to a tripling the fuel tax. Meanwhile, commercial airlines are pushing to get their fuel tax completely eliminated, meaning that they would receive a major tax break, while small aircraft owners and the businesses, communities and charities that depend on small planes would be forced to shoulder a slew of new taxes and fees.

    Small businesses across Utah have done very well at adapting to serve customers in all parts of the state. As construction firms, telecommunications companies, distributors and manufacturing businesses grow, their customer base expands. Small planes become necessary to reach all customers and provide more jobs and economic benefits to the local communities they serve.

    Yet these benefits could cease to be if these unnecessary fees and taxes were adopted. The new taxes on small aircraft would force small businesses, already on tight budgets, to curtail the use of their airplane, possibly grounding it indefinitely.

    This would reduce the range of customers the small businesses can reach, depriving residents of goods and services they have come to depend on. This, in turn, could harm communities as workers are laid off and services curtailed.

    Small airports mostly funded by private aircraft will feel economic tension as well. As planes remain on the ground, small airports may be forced to close, sometimes cutting off the quickest and most efficient access to rural communities.

    But the impact of the proposed user fees goes beyond economics. Many doctors use private planes to reach rural patients who need specialized treatment.

    The same pilots who fly for business also volunteer for life-saving services that take ill children and adults to hospitals free of charge. Without these organizations, patients would have to rely on the airlines or ground transportation, often at the cost of precious days or thousands of dollars.

    Thankfully, Congress has been moving in the right direction since the Senate Commerce Committee proposal. The U.S. House passed a bill that funds modernization and preserves Utah’s small businesses. HR 2881 keeps the current funding structure and adjusts for inflation, creating historic funding levels for the FAA.

    The Senate Finance Committee recently drafted its own common-sense and equitable proposal without resorting to a risky “user fee” scheme or a huge tax break for the airlines.My good friend and former colleague Sen. Orrin Hatch, should support the Senate Finance Committee’s bill as it reaches the Senate floor.

    If it passes, we can begin to modernize our nation’s air traffic control system and avoid the giving the airlines a massive tax break funded by those of us who fly small planes.

    * SEN. JAKE GARN served as the mayor of Salt Lake City from 1972-1974 and in the U.S. Senate from 1974-1993. He has also served in both the U.S. Navy and the Air National Guard as a pilot. He is a member of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.

    Date: 2007-10-13