Passengers to Foot the Cost of Quieter Flights

These are the days of maximum hypocrisy in the Congress as the session nears its closing time. These are the times when politicians bifurcate their tongues and throw themselves into the laps of the business lobbyists eager to trade campaign contributions for corporate subsidy legislation.

So get ready, airline passengers; that same combination is about to add nearly $4 billion during the next five years to your passenger and freight tickets.

On Sept. 14, the House of Representatives, with swarms of airline men standing by the doors in avaricious expectation, voted 272-123 to raise taxes on consumers who fly. These are the same legislators who go around the country pushing for tax reduction–sleight of hand specialists such as Reps. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y., Robert Giaimo, D-Conn., and Bud Shuster, R-Pa.

This shameful power play by the prosperous airlines in a period of sharp inflation required a fig leaf. It’s called aircraft noise reduction. The Federal Aviation Administration issued in 1976 a noise reduction standard which the airlines have to meet by 1985. But as Civil Aeronautics Board chairman Alfred Kahn told the Senate last June, the airlines do not need this federal assistance to meet the noise standards. Indeed, they can obtain their money through normal market enterprise.

With airline profits booming, with traffic volume projections very promising in the next few years, the airlines do not need to make airline passengers pay twice–once as consumers and once as taxpayers.

The aviation industry is buying planes which are quieter, because they need new planes for their passenger loads. Until the existing noisier planes are replaced, the engines can be retrofitted for less sound for about $200,000 per plane. The federal government already subsidizes such an improvement through generous accelerated depreciation and investment tax credits.

But the airlines want more. Why retrofit engines out of profits when instead they can tax the airline passenger to pay for half of a new airplane? Talk about noise reduction and ride the congressional gravy train–airline passengers are not organized like the airlines anyhow.

So-called conservative representatives voted for the 2 percent ticket tax instead of voting to reduce the present 8 percent tax to 6 percent since there is a surplus. Shades of Proposition 13; instead of giving the surplus back to the taxpayers or using it to improve airport safety, the politicians are giving it to the airlines.

Worse, $1 billion of this slush fund will go to foreign airlines, including the distinct possibility of the Soviet and Eastern European airlines. Rep. Barry Goldwater, Jr., R-Calif., who carries the airline industry’s water, should have known that he voted to tax Americans to subsidize Aeroflot!

Where is the National Taxpayers Union or the American Conservative Union and its arch anti-taxer, John Lofton, on this bill? Mum’s the word when the corporations are at the taxpayers’ trough.

What of the White House? Transportation Secretary Brock Adams is now lobbying the Senate like he was president of United Airlines. Carter aides are not restraining him because they are willing to signal the Congress that as long as the airline deregulation bill keeps moving toward enactment, they will favor the passenger ticket tax.

Barry Bosworth of the Council on Wage and Price Stability is against the ticket tax but he has been muzzled by the White House domestic policy staff. Inflation fighter Bosworth is a tiger when it comes to attacking labor but he becomes a lamb when corporations confront him.

It may be up to President Carter to make the final decision. He will have to consider the prospect of an economically destructive precedent being established for other industries demanding special taxes to pay for obeying federal standards of environmental and safety decency in addition to the tax writeoff preferences they already possess.

Consumer groups, who viewed the indifferent lobbying by the Carter administration, except for Esther Peterson, on the $15 million a year consumer protection bill last February, will not forget how strenuously this administration is pushing for a $4 billion consumer tax.

Somewhere, sometime, consumers are going to put a stop to this double payment ripoff that corporations are pushing increasingly at both federal and state levels. Airline passengers can start this movement by telling their senators to vote no against the ticket tax when the bill reaches the Senate floor in a few days, They can remind their senators that opposing inflation, unfair tax increases, and subsidies to domestic and foreign airlines cannot require all that much courage.

And what they lose in airline campaign contributions (openly talked about outside the House chambers), they will certainly gain in stature.

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