Both Parties Grapple With Furloughed FAA Workers' Back Pay

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Two weeks of back pay for some  4,000 Federal Aviation Administration employees remains in limbo, though everyone seems to agree the FAA employees, sidelined because of a funding dispute, should be paid.

Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) unveiled legislation (pdf) Tuesday that would pay the missing salaries and benefits of the furloughed employees. “For the past two weeks it was important to get these workers back on the job.  Now my focus is to get them back pay and to ensure this avoidable situation never happens again," said Congressman LoBiondo in a statement. ("Never" could be as early as September, when Congress must vote again to authorize the agency.)

For their part, Senate Democrats had introduced a bill two weeks ago to ensure the employees would receive back pay, when Senator Jay Rockefeller had included it as part of his plan to reauthorize the FAA's funding.

Both parties' versions would use money from the Airport and Airways Trust Fund to provide the employees' back pay. The trust fund is the mechanism which collects airline taxes -- $30 million a day worth of them -- and provides the FAA with the lion's share of its budget. Jason Galanes, a spokesman for Congressman LoBiondo, said the fund has "plenty of money in it" and can afford a payout. Galanes also said that the FAA and DOT are still determining whether the agency has the authority to provide back pay. "This (legislation) is in case they don’t. If they do, then this legislation is moot and it will be at the secretary’s discretion," said Galanes.

In a blog post last week, US Department of Transportation head Ray LaHood wrote "we everything we can to get Congress to provide our furloughed employees with the back pay they deserve." A DOT spokesperson said today that they were waiting to see what action Congress was going to take.

The House and Senate are in what's called a pro forma session -- meaning members can gavel in and gavel out and pass legislation by unanimous consent. Spokespeople for both parties said that providing furloughed employees with back pay has bipartisan support, but there's no firm schedule on when that will happen.

Meanwhile, the AP reports that all major U.S. airlines have rolled back fares to about the same prices they were charging before federal ticket taxes expired two weeks ago. Airlines had raised fares to match the amount of the expired taxes; now they're collecting taxes again, they've dropped their fares.

For TN's complete coverage of the FAA shutdown, go here.