Editorials

Tax cuts for the rich, higher fees at national parks for families. How is that fair?

Visitors pose for photos in October at the top of Nevada Fall in Yosemite National Park, one of 17 where entrance fees would rise under a Trump administration proposal.
Visitors pose for photos in October at the top of Nevada Fall in Yosemite National Park, one of 17 where entrance fees would rise under a Trump administration proposal. aalfaro@modbee.com

Yes, our national parks have a ridiculously long backlog of maintenance. Maybe entrance fees should be raised a little to help pay for repairs.

But the huge fee increases proposed by the Trump administration are uncalled for, and could easily discourage park visitors.

Under the plan announced last week by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, fees would increase starting next year at 17 of the most popular parks, including Yosemite, Joshua Tree, and Sequoia & Kings Canyon in California. The higher entry fees would be charged during the five busiest months at each park – Jan. 1 to May 31 at Joshua Tree, and May 1 to Sept. 30 at Yosemite and Sequoia & Kings Canyon.

A seven-day pass would jump from $25 or $30 now to $70 a vehicle and from $10 to $15 to $30 for pedestrians.

That’s too much, especially for Californians who live near these parks and want to take a quick day trip. If this proposal moves forward, it must include some kind of allowance for them.

This added hit on working families is even more infuriating when President Donald Trump and House Republicans are pushing tax cuts that would mostly benefit the wealthy and corporations. The proposal also would undermine long-overdue National Park Service efforts to increase diversity among visitors.

Thankfully, California lawmakers – Republicans as well as Democrats – are loudly objecting.

Rep. Tom McClintock, the Elk Grove Republican whose district includes Yosemite, says he personally spoke to Zinke to raise concerns. McClintock said that as chairman of the House Federal Lands subcommittee, he’s trying to restore access to public lands and make the federal government a good neighbor to surrounding communities. “The proposed fee increases run counter to both of these policies,” he said in a statement.

Crying foul is fine, but with power over the budget, Congress can actually do something by allocating more money for the National Park Service.

These parks richly deserve their reputation as national treasures. They drew a record 331 million visitors in 2016, the Park Service centennial year. They should be treated that way with adequate funding in the federal budget, paid for by all Americans.

As The Bee’s Dale Kasler reports, this fee increase is projected to raise about $70 million a year. Last year, fees at the 118 of 417 Park Service sites that charge them generated about $200 million total. Those are small numbers compared to the Park Service’s $3 billion annual budget and $11 billion maintenance backlog.

At the same time, the Trump administration is proposing a $300 million cut in staffing and programming, though it does ask for $33 million more for maintenance.

The public can have its say until Nov. 23, and there’s an online comment form available.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and others are supporting an alternative to fee increases in the form of a bill that would create a restoration fund from fees paid by companies that extract minerals on public lands. That seems much fairer than extracting more cash from vacationing families.

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