N, Y. Investigators: $1.5 Billion Raised Could Have Been Used For Increasing Airport Security, But Wasn't

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Investigators: $1.5 Billion Raised Could Have Been Used For Increasing Airport Security, But Wasn't (New York-WABC, October 5, 2001) The Eyewitness News Investigators have found that none of more than $1 billion in ticket taxes raised by the Port Authority went to improving security at are airports. Jim Hoffer reports. Anyone who has flown out of JFK, LaGuardia, or Newark Airports has paid what's called a passenger facility charge. It's a small tax added on to the ticket price. Through the years, that tax has raised more than a billion dollars for the Port Authority, money that could have been used for security, but we discovered that when it came to this huge revenue source, roads and rails were a higher priority. Soldiers are now part of airport security. Armed National Guardsmen now patrol Newark International Airport, 25 days after one of the hijacked planes took off from here and crashed in Western Pennsylvania. Since then everyone has been talking security and how to pay for it. Jim Hoffer, Eyewitness News: "Do you support paying more money if it goes to security?" Susan Luria, Passenger: "Definitely. I have no problem paying a little extra for security."

For years, passengers have been paying a ticket tax, known as a passenger facility charge. It has raised billions of dollars that could have been used for security. FAA regulations state that priority one for this money is to "enhance airport safety, security or capacity."

Robert Luria, Passenger: "I think people should know where that money is actually being spent. Road improvements and monorails are good, but security, I think, is a priority."

But documents obtained by Eyewitness News show that security has not been a priority when it comes to the passenger facility charge. During the past 10 years, passengers at LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark paid about $1.5 billion in facility fees. Our investigation reveals that none of that money, not a penny, went to airport security.

Paul Hudson, Aviation Consumer Action Project: "The law was drafted as security, safety or capacity. And the key word is "or". Safety and security get very little or nothing. Capacity and things that will increase revenue for the airports essentially get everything."

FAA documents back this up. Hundreds of millions of dollars went, not to tighten security, but to help pay for improving access at the airports. Projects like the building of Newark's monorail and current construction of JFK's light rail. Although none of the money went to security, the FAA says that's OK since the passenger tax can be used to "enhance airport capacity." Still, some argue it's been done at the expense of tighter security.

Charles Slepian, Aviation Attorney: "It seems to me, not only to be a deception on how money is spent, but it's a shirking of the duty to protect the people who use those airports."

In a written statement, the Port Authority said, "Any projects identified as necessary for the safety and security of Newark, JFK and LaGuardia have been funded. It is irresponsible to suggest that any security improvements have been blocked because of a lack of funding from the federal Passenger Facility Charge."

The Port Authority says that it uses passenger facility charges for airport improvements because it turns to other funding to pay security costs. The authority says one of the problems with the passenger fee is that guidelines on security spending are too restrictive, something it hopes congress will now change. Still, the authority says it spends millions in other sources to deploy hundreds of well-trained airport police.

Nationwide, passengers have paid out $32 billion in facility charges since the tax began nine years ago. Eyewitness News has learned that out of that amount, only two percent went to improving airport security around the country. A father who lost his daughter in the Pan Am 103 bombing says that figure should be a lesson to the nation as it decides how to tighten airport security.

Hudson: "The record, not only in the PFCs, but in other security taxes, is when the money is given to the airlines and airports it rarely gets to security."

An FAA source says that he expects in the coming months, more airports will apply for passenger facility funds to help tighten security. He also says those request will now be given priority. We should note that passenger screening and aircraft security are the responsibility of the airlines, not the airports. We should expect to hear more about the facility tax as congress debates how to pay for increased security.

-- K (infosurf@yahoo.com), October 06, 2001

Answers

IMHO, this is the money that could be used to make airport security a federal function. People are already paying this.

-- K (infosurf@yahoo.com), October 06, 2001.

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