State may charge aircraft registration fee

• Money would go to rural airport maintenance • Alaskans have until Jan. 5 to comment on the proposal

You have to register your car with the state of Alaska each year. You may soon have to register your plane, too.

 

The State of Alaska is proposing a new aircraft registration fee to partially offset the cost of maintaining the state’s 240 rural airports. As proposed, the fee would be $150 for a private plane and $250 for a plane used for business.

The fee is expected to raise between $1.3 million and $1.4 million for Statewide Aviation, the branch of DOT that oversees the state’s airports. Statewide Aviation has an annual operating budget of about $40 million, and a quarter of that is covered by the state’s aviation fuel (jet fuel and avgas) tax, plus leases for hangars and other airport spaces.

The remaining $30 million comes from the state’s general fund, and the fee is intended to close some of the gap, said Richard Sewell, aviation policy planner for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

The fee is not yet confirmed — Alaskans have until Jan. 5 to comment on the proposal by email at statewideaviation@alaska.gov.

“We’ll have to see what the comment period brings us,” Sewell said.

Since 2016, Gov. Bill Walker has asked the Alaska Legislature to boost the state’s motor fuel taxes — including the aviation gasoline and jet fuel taxes — to cover some of the expenses of the Department of Transportation.

The gas taxes would raise much more money for aviation needs than the aircraft registration fee would, but the gas tax increase remains stalled in the Legislature’s finance committees, and the registration fee is being pursued in a regulation, not a law, which means it bypasses the Legislature.

Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, has some thoughts about that approach. Rauscher, who was in Juneau for the ongoing special session, was one of about a dozen people who attended a public hearing last week on the proposal.

In his Capitol office on Friday, he said he views the new registration fee as a tax, and he’s alarmed that the Department of Transportation seems to be bypassing the Legislature as it imposes this tax.

“Going forward, once one administrative department starts using this method for recovering costs … where do we go? Is every department going to come up with this idea now?” he asked.

According to documents provided by the state, the program is expected to cost about $30,000 to administer per year, and the state does not intend to start an enforcement effort.

Tom George of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots’ Association is a member of the statewide advisory committee that guides Statewide Aviation. By phone, he said the board hasn’t issued an opinion on the registration proposal.

It has, however, repeatedly recommended increases to the fuel tax as the most equitable way to cover the expenses of the airport system.

“From what we know at the moment, that’s our best shot,” he said.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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