WASHINGTON – President Trump rekindled a fight Thursday over Transportation Security Administration funding by proposing to raise the fee on airline tickets that already aggravates travelers and airlines.
Trump proposed that the security fee on airline tickets should cover 75% of TSA’s operations, as part of his budget for the year starting Oct. 1. Budget documents released Thursday didn’t cite the increase, but Politico earlier reported that the current $5.60 fee for each leg of a flight would rise $1.
Trump’s goal is “to ensure that the cost of government services is not subsidized by taxpayers who do not directly benefit from those programs.”
But when the TSA fee more than doubled in July 2014, a significant portion of the extra revenue was diverted to deficit reduction, under a deal negotiated by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., when he was Budget Committee chairman.
The fee was raised from $2.50 for each leg of a flight, or $5 for a connecting flight, to $5.60 for each leg, or $11. The hike was part of a broader deficit-reduction deal that followed a government shutdown.
The higher fee is projected to generate $40 billion over its first decade while diverting $12.6 billion to deficit reduction.
The fee hike sparked outrage from travelers and airlines.
“For some reason, the government thinks that airline passengers are a bottomless piggy bank,” Charles Leocha, who heads the consumer-advocacy group Travelers United, said when the fee went into effect.
The trade group Airlines for America, which represents most of the largest carriers, asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the fee hike.
Sharon Pinkerton, the airline group’s senior vice president for legislative affairs, told a Senate hearing Feb. 16 that travelers are paying $1.4 billion more each year for the same service because of the fee diversion.
“The concept of a ‘fee’ specifically charged to pay for a specific service has long been lost in our industry and they have all simply become taxes by another name,” Pinkerton said. “We would respectfully request this committee do everything in its power to redirect TSA passenger security fee revenue back where it belongs: paying for aviation security.”
Trump would also tinker with TSA staffing in several ways. His budget proposes to eliminate and reduce unnamed programs, which he said were unauthorized or underperforming, that total $80 million per year.
Trump also proposed to eliminate TSA grants to state and local jurisdictions that provide an incentive for police to patrol airports because “that should already be a high priority for state and local partners.” And Trump proposed to reduce the number of Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams that patrol airports, railroads and bus stations, often with bomb-sniffing dogs.
But lawmakers might resist those changes.
Congress doubled the number of VIPR teams last year from 30 to 60, after the bombings in Brussels and Istanbul, because those officers patrol outside the checkpoints in the arrivals and baggage-claim areas of airports. The move was reinforced after the January shootings in baggage claim at Fort Lauderdale'a airport.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., praised the doubling of VIPR teams at the Jan. 11 confirmation hearing for Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and said “our work to improve airport security remains a constant challenge.”