Last week the “security fee” the federal government charges to airline passengers more than doubled, from $2.50 per passenger to $5.60 per passenger. The increased fee was part of a budget agreement that Congress and the Obama Administration worked out last year.
I don’t have a problem with the concept of “user fees,” and I view the “security fee” as falling within that category. I think user fees are a fair way of paying for services that some Americans use, but not others. Every American needs our military, for example, but not everyone needs the blue-shirted Transportation Security Administration folks who remind us to take off our belts, look at our drivers licenses, and wave us through scanners. Why should people who don’t regularly fly on airplanes pay for services that are used only by regular air travelers like me? And with all of the nickel-and-diming that goes on with air travel these days, from baggage fees to food fees to other obscure charges, who’s going to notice an extra $3.10?
The problem I have is that the money raised won’t be used entirely for the TSA, or apparently for services that are directly related to air travel security. I recognize that the federal government is one huge bucket, and it’s hard to precisely account for specific payments, but if you really want to implement a “user fee,” the proceeds should go solely for the service being used. Otherwise, you’re just using the fee as a thinly disguised tax to raise general revenue, and you’re targeting just one group for the tax hit. That’s not equitable, and it’s destructive of the fairness principle that make user fees a sensible approach in the first place.