There is a move on Capitol Hill to fix the way we maintain America’s airports by bringing free-market reforms to the massive transportation bill the Republican leadership is dead-set on passing this summer.
Capitol Hill conservatives may not be able to stop the transportation spending bill, but some right-thinking members of Congress are working to leverage thePassenger Facility Charge as a way to move Uncle Sam further out of the airport business.
It is not privatization, which is still a non-starter given that President Barack Obama still checks the mailbox at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But, the plan relies on one of the intellectual tenets of privatization: the benefit principle.
The benefit principle says that users of a specific good or service should the ones paying the freight. It is why you pay a fee at a National Park Service campground or at the public golf course. It is the opposite of the government paying the full boat, which ends up turning the goods and services into a Soviet-style perks for the politically-connected and wealthy—which is what air travel used to be.
The Washington-based Tax Foundation, released a May 11 study, “Improving Airport Funding to Meet the Needs of Passengers,” detailing how reforming the PFC reform syncs-up with benefit principle, authored by Alan Cole, an economist at the conservative foundation.
“Public policy on airport spending should be more in line with the benefit principle. According to the benefit principle, the people who use a public service should generally be the ones to contribute to that service,” he wrote. “This approach allows projects to be approved or canceled on their own merits, by the people who best understand the costs and benefits.”
The PFC started at $3 per ticket in 1990, roughly five years after the final dismantling of the Civil Aeronautics Board, with the intent of making airports more self-sufficient.