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Congress considers passenger security tax fee

From Beth Lewandowski
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Faced with mounting aviation security costs that some put at up to $10 billion a year, lawmakers are considering doubling the passenger security fee on airline tickets.

The fee would increase from $2.50 to $5 per leg. The maximum allowable fee would be $20 on each ticket.

The fee increase would come as part of a House of Representatives bill approving $4.4 billion in emergency assistance to the Transportation Security Administration.

House appropriators were dismayed to learn last month that the new agency, tasked with federalizing passenger screening operations and meeting a congressional mandate to screen all checked bags for explosives, would run out of money by the end of May if it did not receive supplemental funding.

The TSA started fiscal year 2002 with a budget of $2.3 billion.

At the time, members of the congressional panel questioned why the price tag for the new agency had risen so much, and noted that the original plan was for the TSA to be self supporting through the passenger security fee.

A congressional aide said Monday that lawmakers now think that the price tag for a fully operational TSA could top $10 billion. The Department of Transportation has requested $4.6 billion for its fiscal year 2003 budget.

The congressional aide said, even if the passenger security fee was increased to $5 per leg, it would raise only $2 billion.

The airline industry immediately criticized the proposed fee increase.

"All of this is apparently being considered just as the summer leisure travel season is beginning and as airlines continue their efforts to stop the financial hemorrhaging they continue to experience from the events of September 11," Air Transport Association spokesman Michael Wascom said Monday.

"Understandably so, leisure travelers are cost-conscious consumers when it comes to air travel," Wascom added. "This would really be a major financial blow to them and the airlines they fly."

David Stempler of the Air Travelers Association noted passengers were already loaded up with fees.

"There's a $7.50 domestic ticket tax, a $3-per-person, per-flight segment fee. Then there is a maximum of $18 in airport facility charges. And you've got the security fee -- now it could be up to $20," he said.

"So on a $200 ticket, you are looking at almost $55 of that as taxes. Over 25 percent of the ticket is taxes. And if you get a lower-priced ticket, it could almost be 50 percent of the cost," he said Monday.

The passenger security tax fee increase, a Republican initiative proposed by Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, is scheduled to be voted on Wednesday by the committee.




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