U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is backing a broad proposal that could raise a ticket fee to fund airport infrastructure improvements, though it also could almost double a charge in passenger air tickets.
Supporters say the added money will help defray the costs of building and improving airports, while critics say it will burden families and business people with extra costs and potentially dampen economic development.
Collins, already faced with with disagreements over her support of the federal budget bill, co-authored a broader appropriations act that includes the controversial airport charge. The Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee she chairs passed the act in July. It still needs to be considered by the full Senate.
“Over the next five years airports in Maine and across the country face a nearly $100 billion backlog for infrastructure projects, which are needed to address the increased growth of passengers and cargo,” Collins’ communications director Annie Clark wrote in an email to the Bangor Daily News. “The passenger facility charge helps airports upgrade and expand their facilities in order to better serve travelers, yet the cap has not been raised for 17 years. Allowing airports to modestly increase this local user fee will help finance critical safety and capacity projects that will benefit passengers and create jobs.”
The so-called passenger facility charge could be raised to $8.50 from $4.50. That means the fee on a nonstop flight out of the Portland International Jetport or Bangor International Airport could be $17 round trip instead of the current $9, or $4.50 each way. An extra stop could add another $4.50 each way, bringing the total to $26.
That’s on top of the taxes and other fees added to the base airfare, including a 7.5 percent excise tax in North America and a $5.60 security fee.
Stop Air Tax Now, a project of Airlines for America, released an analysis Thursday finding that travelers flying out of Maine could pay up to $4.6 million more in fees each year under the new proposal. The increase would add up to $3.51 million annually for passengers using the Portland International Jetport, the group found.
PWM collected $3.5 million in passenger facility charges last year. Bangor International Airport would get nearly $1 million annually from the increase, the group found.
Collins’ office said the charge is imposed by states or local government and collected by airlines on behalf of airports. The proposal would let airports increase their local charge, but does not require them to. The increase would be limited to originating passengers. Those transferring en route who come from smaller rural airports couldn’t be charged more than $4.50 for the extra leg of their journey.
Chris Fogg, CEO of the Maine Tourism Association, and Anthony Caruso, director of Bangor International Airport, both supported the fee hike in opinion pieces submitted to the Bangor Daily News. Fogg said the infrastructure improvements will attract tourists to nicer facilities. Caruso said $320 million in infrastructure improvements are needed at the state’s airports over the next five years, which would potentially add another 7,000 jobs to the 19,000 people now working at Maine’s airports. It also could add millions to the $1.8 billion in annual economic output by the airports, he wrote.
Detractors, including Maine Rep. Rich Cebra (R-Naples) and Maine Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner George Gervais, wrote in separate BDN opinion pieces that the fees add up quickly and could deter both tourism and business travel.
Piling on taxes and fees does not encourage economic growth, Gervais wrote in a letter to the editor published by the BDN. He said raising the passenger facility charge will make Maine less competitive, and with tourism a key part of the economy, Maine can’t afford any policy change that makes it more expensive for visitors to fly to the state.
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