A Senate Democrat blasted the Bush administration Wednesday over plans to raise ticket fees for airline passengers – a budget proposal that would pay for a host of homeland security programs.

The proposed White House budget, released earlier this week, would raise existing ticket fees by $3 to help finance a $2.2 billion increase in the fiscal 2006 budget of the Department of Homeland Security.

“I am one of the strongest advocates for more transportation security resources in Congress,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., wrote in a letter dated Wednesday to President Bush. “But we cannot balance the budget on the backs of the traveling public and small business people.”

“You campaigned on a message of fear that your opponent would raise taxes upon taking office,” added Lautenberg, a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “However, it turns out that the first act of your new term includes a proposal to raise taxes on millions of American families.”

Homeland Security Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the fee increase makes up for $400 million in federal security measures that the Bush administration is not asking commercial airlines to reimburse.

“Last year, the administration requested the airlines reimburse $750 million for security, and this year’s request is only $350 million,” Roehrkasse said. “The difference would come from revenues in passengers’ fees.”

Under the budget proposal, passenger fees would increase in 2006 from $2.50 to $5.50 for a direct one-way flight, or from $5 to $8 for flights making multiple stops. That means round-trip passengers could pay up to $16 per ticket in security fees. Already, passengers pay an average of $45.87 in taxes and fees above ticket costs, Lautenberg’s aides said.

The fees are widely opposed by commercial airlines, employees and passenger groups which charge that the fee increase – totaling an estimated $1.5 billion – would threaten the economy, jobs and local air service.

© 2005 The Associated Press