'Stingy budget appropriations and decades of deferred maintenance have taken a toll on our national parks.'
Help the Parks
NYT Editorial, June 10, 2008
It is only June, but given a summer recess and the fall’s campaigning, the rest of the legislative year could well be wasted, and some good bills left to die, unless Congress starts working harder now.
One piece of legislation that deserves a serious push is the National Park Service Centennial Initiative. A brainchild of Dirk Kempthorne, the Interior secretary, the initiative would use the years leading up to the park system’s 100th birthday in 2016 to raise $1 billion in private money and match that with $1 billion in federal money — above and beyond normal appropriations — to rejuvenate the national parks.
As recent visitors can attest, the parks need all the help they can get. Stingy budget appropriations and decades of deferred maintenance have taken a toll on everything from park roads to day-to-day operations. In his brief tenure, Mr. Kempthorne has done several good things for the parks — including killing a potentially harmful rewrite of the service’s management policies that would have promoted inappropriate commercial and recreational activities at the expense of conservation. He wants now to provide a special revenue stream by using the promise of a federal match to entice private donors to help underwrite vital projects.
The idea was so appealing that the House Natural Resources Committee approved it by a voice vote. It has languished ever since, the victim of wrangling between House members who rightly demand offsetting revenue-raising measures to pay for the bill and the administration’s budget office, which says it can’t find such offsets. House Democrats who are loath to hand Mr. Bush anything he can celebrate have also been less than helpful.
The solution seems ridiculously obvious. The budget office should find the offsets (an increase in park concession fees would do the trick), and the Democratic leadership should schedule a vote. We predict that the verdict would be overwhelmingly positive, and the Senate would follow suit. The parks and their millions of visitors would be the winners, and Congress could show that it can get things done — even in an election year.