Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), Chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington), Chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, have unveiled a compromise plan to fund the U.S. federal government for the next two years, eliminating the spectre of another government shutdown in January. Pols from both sides have expressed indignation over the deal, suggesting it is not a bad compromise, but part of the deal is an increase in airline security fees. If it the compromise passes, you will be paying an extra $5 each trip for the pleasure of the Transportation Security Administration treating you like a criminal.
Presently, passengers pay a $2.50 per-segment fee, capped at $5.00 each-way, and under the new budget that fee would double to $5.00 per-segment. The TSA states that this so-called “9/11 Security Fee” covers about 25% of aviation security expenses, but the increase is fee is not going directly to fund the TSA but rather to offset the cost of partially rolling back sequestration. In a way to avoid the charge of raising taxes, this increase in “fees” will be diverted to the general fund.
But when the federal government pays for about 70% of airline security fees through tax revenue (the other 5% coming from the airlines), this increased fee will indirectly result in the same end product: the flying public will be bearing more of the cost of funding the TSA.
Here’s the problem: since 2007, the TSA workforce has grown by 13% while Congress has increased the TSA budget by 18%. But over the same period, the total number of passengers screened has decreased by 11%!
But expensive equipment and a bloated, unionized workforce require increased funding and now travelers will be stuck with increased fees if House and Senate Republicans back this compromise.
On the surface, it seems reasonable that airline customers should pay for their own screening, but I have two concerns. First, why should passengers be responsible for an agency that has grown while its workload has declined? The solution is not more money but to run the agency more effectively.
Second, “Protect[ing] the Nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce, which is after all the mission of the TSA, has ripple effects across the entire economy. Every American has a stake in the freedom of movement and therefore it is unreasonable to place the bulk of the burden on the backs of those who travel by air.
Similar proposals to raise security fees have been beaten back before and the airline lobby is out in full force trying to do the same this time around, but I have a feeling you can soon add an extra $10-20 to every airline ticket you buy.