The American Conservative Union Foundation, the main group on the right that rates members of Congress' voting records, has come out in opposition to legislation that would privatize a key federal responsibility: air traffic control. The group said Thursday that the proposed legislation, dubbed the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act, didn't go far enough in making it a private entity.
In a statement, the ACUF said that the bill had "some aspects" that were good but that "it misses completely when it comes to the actual transfer of power from public to private hands. Specifically, private enterprises would not be allowed to compete for ownership of the newly created entity."
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., is the lead author of the 21st Century AIRR Act. The legislation would take air traffic control out of the Federal Aviation Administration and instead create an independent nonprofit to run it. It would be governed by a board including the transportation secretary, people nominated by the airline companies and representatives of the air traffic controllers and pilots' unions. The board would be funded through user fees. Shuster and other fans argue a nongovernment entity would be better suited to keep the technology up to date. The legislation is expected to be taken up this fall.
The ACUF argued that Shuster's plan "raises serious questions as to how this transfer of power would work: the U.S. Secretary of Transportation would be given the authority to decide the makeup of employees and approve the fees to fund operations while the Board of Directors, which would include directors appointed by the government, would have to accept existing union contracts." It argued that the result would be a hybrid public/private entity that would leave taxpayers still on the hook should its finances go awry.
The conservative group did not say, however, that it would make opposing the legislation part of its annual scorecard for lawmakers. An ACUF spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
Support and opposition to the effort cut across partisan lines. President Trump has backed it, as has House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. The main aviation industry lobby, Airlines for America, is pushing for it as is the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the labor group that represents the workers. However, liberals and conservative lawmakers have objected, fearing the legislation will give the industry too much power.