By now most Americans have absorbed President Trump’s proposed budget on topics ranging from health care to privatizing the nation’s air traffic control system. On the issue of travel, and the even more specific issue of aviation, you’d be forgiven for being confused.

How do we undertake public works projects while cutting budgets? How do we improve infrastructure while simultaneously reducing taxes on the entities that benefit from it? Simply put, just who exactly is supposed to pay for our aviation network’s daily maintenance and upkeep, let alone airport improvements and expansion?

There are a finite number of sources available for funding our airline infrastructure. And each is problematic in its own way.

Closing the gaps

In February, the president told Congress “crumbling infrastructure” will be replaced with new airports and other projects, “gleaming across our very very beautiful land,” and called for a $1 trillion investment. But the old Congressional joke about “a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money” certainly rings true.

The experts at the American Society of Civil Engineers — who recently gave our infrastructure a grade of D+ — claim there’s a total $2 trillion investment gap through 2025, with a $42 billion shortfall for airports alone. ASCE states: “Infrastructure owners and operators must charge, and Americans must be willing to pay rates and fees that reflect the true cost of using, maintaining and improving all infrastructure,” including transportation.

This is entirely sensible, but easier said than done. Who will foot such bills? The federal government? States and municipalities? Airlines? Airports? Passengers? Taxpayers who don’t fly?

Furthermore, any discussion of the federal/state/local…