Lingle backs isleHawaii could get up to $15 million annually for state airport improvement projects under an administration bill that would tack between $3 and $4.50 onto the airline tickets of most departing passengers.
A charge between $3 and $4.50
would be added to the price
of most airline tickets
By Bruce Dunford
It's money the state could have been collecting since 1991 but ignored, apparently because of concern it would drive up prices on interisland tickets. The new plan would not cover interisland flights.
Gov. Linda Lingle and her top aides insist it's not a fee or tax increase, which would be contrary to her campaign promise not to increase taxes or fees to balance the state budget.
"We're not proposing a fee," Lingle said Friday. "We're allowing Hawaii to collect what is already being taken by other cities."
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 330 airports throughout the nation charge the passenger facilities fee; only airports in Hawaii and Delaware don't collect it.
"It's charged anyway somewhere else," Lingle said. "This is just allowing it to be paid in Hawaii. So it's nothing additional to the traveler."
Local travel agents, however, say it will add to the cost of a ticket for almost everyone flying out of Hawaii. Exempt are nonrevenue passengers, such as airline employees, and passengers using frequent flyer miles.
The fee is part of a federal program administered by the Federal Aviation Administration to provide an additional funding source to expand the national airport system.
Money from the passenger facilities fee must be used for FAA-approved airport improvements or to pay off bonds associated with airport debt and financing.
Lingle said she didn't know why Hawaii hasn't been collecting the passenger facilities fee since 1991, when a federal law authorized it.
"I think they lost out," she said.
In the past, lawmakers were reluctant to institute the charge because it would hurt residents who frequently fly interisland routes, but three years ago state officials obtained a ruling to exempt interisland flights from the fee.
Lingle, a Republican, declined to comment on past Democratic administrations losing out on what apparently would have been more than $100 million for airport improvements.
"I try to look forward as best I can," she said.
Former Gov. Ben Cayetano's administration last year submitted a bill to impose a $4.50 passenger facilities fee that would exempt interisland or foreign flights, but it became an unintended casualty of Cayetano's veto of a multipurpose bill to give rent relief to airport concessionaires.
The 2002 measure could still become law if the state Supreme Court agrees with Sen. Colleen Hanabusa's legal challenge to Cayetano's veto of 13 measures on the grounds that he missed the deadline to notify the Legislature of his intention to reject them. Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli) said Attorney General Mark Bennett has agreed to ask the high court to expedite a ruling on the case.
The passenger facilities fee could net $10 million to $15 million annually, depending on the size of the fee, according to the Lingle administration, which said it would cover the reduced revenues being experienced by the state's Airports Division.
Office of the Governor
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