Shutdown, Showdowns, and the Road Ahead

By Jonathon T. Freye, Vice President of Government  and Public Affairs

Following the Congressional midterm elections on November 6th, the 116th Congress convened in the midst of the longest government shutdown in history. The elections resulted in a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, while Republicans maintained their control in the Senate. In the House, Democrats picked up 40 seats, nearly double the 23 they needed to take the majority. Democratic leadership has telegraphed that they intend to consider a sweeping transportation infrastructure investment bill, with recent reporting putting the timeline for a possible consideration of such a bill before the House in early June. Republicans held their majority in the Senate, where 35 Senators were up for reelection, netting an additional two seats to bring their lead to 53-47. Similarly, senior Senators are already telegraphing their interest in an infrastructure package. And, in early March, the President introduced a budget proposal which, like last year, contained a $200 billion placeholder for infrastructure. It is clear that policymakers recognize the importance of making much-needed investments in infrastructure, while finding long-term funding solutions.
Unfortunately, disagreements between the White House and Capitol Hill over policies not related to transportation caused a 35-day government shutdown. In his article on page
73 of this issue, Colin Bane interviews a NATA member, Jet Logistics, whose clients were critically affected by the closure of the FAA. To Jet Logistics, the shutdown illustrated how the safety-critical nature of the FAA should justify exempting the agency from the effects of future shutdowns. NATA recently lent our strong support to a bill introduced by Representatives DeFazio (D-OR) and Larsen (D-WA). The Aviation Funding Stability Act, H.R. 1108, would protect FAA programs and personnel—and the U.S. aviation industry as a whole—from future shutdowns of the federal government by allowing the agency to spend any unobligated money in the Airport and Airway Trust Fund to continue all ongoing FAA programs, projects, and activities at the same annualized rate that they were receiving during the most recent appropriations that had lapsed. While the Trust Fund receives a modest contribution from the U.S. Treasury’s general fund, the FAA is almost entirely a self-funded agency. The Trust Fund currently has a balance sufficient to cover last year’s general fund share of the FAA, plus the ongoing Trust Fund share, in the unlikely event of a prolonged lapse of appropriations lasting several years.
As possible infrastructure legislation begins to take shape, NATA is working hard on several funding-related priorities. One example is an initiative to repeal an antiquated tax provision that the independent Government Accountability Office found has inappropriately diverted between one and two billion dollars of noncommercial jet fuel tax receipts to the Highway Trust Fund, instead of their rightful place in the Airport and Airways Trust Fund. NATA is also leading an industry coalition to support a recent Senate proposal to extend the biodiesel tax credit, which also applies to sustainable alternative jet fuels. This effort is a logical outgrowth of NATA’s active participation in the Sustainable Alternative Jet Fuels initiative.
Clearly, Congress intends to prioritize funding this year, but closer to home, NATA will also focus on raising the resources available to our government affairs efforts. Tim Obitts makes great points in his column on page 7: in order to maximize the effectiveness of our advocacy initiatives, NATA needs to hear from you, and we need your participation to successfully enact federal policies that support our industry in 2019.

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