Proposed fuel tax revenue may help buoy rural airports

A state advisory board is recommending Gov. Bill Walker hike the aviation fuel tax to support rural airports. The Aviation Advisory board weighed several options in its efforts to offset cuts to the Department of Transportation. But there’s no certainty any additional revenue would support the airports.

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Faced with declining oil revenue and cuts to the Department of Transportation, Walker charged the Aviation Advisory Board this summer with recommendations for covering the upkeep of almost 250 airports scattered across the state. These airports don’t include international hubs of Fairbanks and Anchorage. Most don’t have any personnel and few pieces of equipment.

Jim Dodson is vice chair of the board. He says it seemed like raising the jet and aviation fuel tax to 10 cents a gallon was the fairest option.

“What kind of structure could we come up with that would impact aviation users of our system equally, and what type of system could we come up with that wouldn’t cost us anything additional to collect.”

John Binder is deputy commissioner for aviation for DOT. He says it costs the state roughly $37 million to run rural airports, with about $5 million in rentals and fees to offset that.  He says a $0.10/gallon cost represents triple the current tax for jet fuel, and double for aviation fuel. But he says even if lawmakers and the governor sign off on the tax hike, there’s no guarantee it would aid rural airports.

“That would take legislative action as well, to dedicate that money specifically to the airport system or to DOT… and that’s fairly unlikely, I think.”

So with the governor urging rural airports to be more self-supporting, the recommended route is in for a bumpy ride in Juneau.

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