The White House is calling for a hike in the fees that airline passengers have to pay to cover some of the increase in spending on homeland security.
Homeland Security is one of the few agencies that would be spared an overall spending cut in 2006. The agency is asking Congress for $34.2 billion in discretionary funding — a 6.8 percent increase from current levels — on top of $6.7 billion required by law.
The spending plan largely relies on generating $4.8 billion more in fees in 2006 — 60 percent more than expected in the current fiscal year. To do this, the White House proposes increasing airline passenger fees by $3 in 2006, raising the cost from $2.50 to $5.50 for each leg of a round-trip ticket. Fees would increase from $5 to $8 for passengers making several stops on a one-way ticket.
“A tax on travelers is a tax on airlines,” said James C. May, president and chief executive officer of the Air Transport Association. “We believe any new tax or fee raises ticket prices and the cost of airlines doing business.”
Boost in border patrol
The spending plan proposes adding 210 new border patrol agents, at a cost of $37 million, to fill gaps along the southwest border and coastal areas. They would replace agents who were shifted to the northern border along the Canadian line after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The plan would bring the total number of border patrol agents to 10,949.
The borders and custom services would also get additional devices — at a cost of $125 million — to detect weapons of mass destruction and block them from entering the country. The system would be part of a new Domestic Nuclear Detection Office within the agency to monitor and report attempts to import, assemble or transport unsanctioned nuclear or radiological materials.
In all, the agency would spend $262 million, more than doubling current funding, on developing weapons of mass destruction detection devices.
The Homeland Security budget also includes:
- Over $3.6 billion in grants, training programs and technical assistance for local and state first responders. Over $2 billion worth of grants will be meted out on a priority basis of risk and vulnerability assessments, as well as needs identified in state and regional homeland security plans. However, the budget would cut state and local coordination efforts by $420 million, or 11 percent.
- An increase of $5.4 million, to $138.8 million, for the Container Security Initiative, which prescreens shipping cargo before it enters U.S. ports.
- More than $28 million for customs and border patrol targeting systems to identify high-risk cargo and passengers. The amount marks a $5.4 million hike.
- Nearly $689 million for the Federal Air Marshal Service.
- Increasing research funding by $49 million for countermeasures to shoulder-fired missiles threats against commercial aircraft to $110 million.