Proposal to give
airlines relief dropped
A legislative panel tabled a proposal yesterday to grant temporary financial relief to airlines struggling from the downturn in air travel from the 2001 terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq.
The move came a day after lawmakers reached agreement on a measure allowing the state to levy a fee of at least $3 on airline passengers leaving Hawaii, with the money going toward federally approved airport improvements or to pay off bonds associated with airport debt and financing.
House Transportation Chairman Joe Souki (D, Waihee-Wailuku) said the bill granting temporary relief was shelved because airlines could not accept the language in the bill.
"They felt that it wasn't broad enough to cover all the airlines," he said. "If you make one change here, it would have hurt somebody else, so there's no way that we could find a compromise in the middle."
The temporary relief bill would have authorized the waiving of landing fees and some other charges for 30 days. It also would authorize the deferment of those fees for up to 60 days.
The House Select Committee on War Preparedness -- which was convened this session to study the impact of an Iraq war on Hawaii's economy -- supported the bill as a means of assisting Hawaii's cash-strapped airlines.
Souki noted that in the event of an emergency, the Governor's Office has the authority to adjust landing fees.
"They don't need the legislation because it lies with the (Department of Transportation), who can raise or lower the fees any time they can come up with some reasonable explanation," Souki said. "In the event help is needed, the Governor's Office can do that."
Yesterday was the deadline by which all fiscal bills had to be in their final form before the House and Senate take final votes on all proposed legislation next week.
On Thursday, House and Senate lawmakers adopted a bill that would allow the state to levy a "passenger facilities charge" of between $3 and $4.50 on the tickets of most departing airline passengers.
It is money the state could have been collecting since 1990 but ignored until two years ago because it would have driven up prices on interisland tickets. Hawaii's congressional delegation obtained an exemption for the interisland flights in 2001.
Gov. Linda Lingle has called the facilities charge one of the only fiscal increases she supports, noting that the estimated $15 million in annual revenue it is expected to generate would help support Hawaii airports.