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Administration Proposals - A Recent History
The National Park Service undertook a study of its visitoi fee system in 1976-77. It found that in 1976, entrance and/or user fees had been levied at 116 units of the System (less than half the total) and had yielded $16.9 million: $9 million (53%) from entrance fees, $6.4 million (38%) from user fees, and $1.6 million (9%) from Golden Eagle sales. of the 66 parks charging entrance fees, 10 collected two-thirds of the revenue; of the 77 charging user fees (mostly for camping), 10 collected threefifths of the total. It was clear that entrance fees were more profitable than user fees and that a few areas--for the most part the large western parks--brought in a disproportionate share of revenues' in both...categories.
The latter factor made Service managers reluctant to adopt an incentive system, proposed by Interior officials, whereby parks collecting more fees would receive more in return. As the study report noted, fee receipts were not necessarily within a park's control; an incentive system might cause superintendents to overly stress collection, and the parks that received the most revenue were not always those most in need of more money.
Under heavy pressure from OMB, which slashed $12 million from the Service's fiscal 1980 budget request and advised it to raise the money itself, the Service planned more and higher fees to become effective that year. The additional revenues, forecast at more than 70 percent over the 1978 level, were to go for park maintenance. The Congressional subcommittees on parks condemned the proposed increase.
Congress passed legislation freezing entrance fees at their January 1, 1979 levels and forbidding them where they did not then exist. Greater income from the most lucrative revenue source was thus sharply limited, leaving camping and other user fees the only means of significantly increasing the visitor's share of park costs.
The National Park Service fee collection program suffered a futher blow in 1980, when Congress required all fee income to be deposited again in the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The effect was to virtually eliminate whatever financial incentive remained to park managers: their costs could no longer be reimbursed from their receipts, as they were under the special account, and their parks would benefit little or not at all from the proceeds.
The Reagan Administration was in full agreement with the outgoing Carter Administration on visitor fees as a desirable way to offset general revenue appropriations for the parks and other federal recreation areas. It sought to regain the initiative with its "Recreation Fees and Improvements Act of 1982," a draft
bill sent to Congress that February. Returning to an interagency approach, the bill would authorize all federal recreation providers to collect entrance fees, repeal most legal restrictions on collection, eliminate the $10 ceiling on the Golden Eagle, and enable each agency's revenues to be returned to a special account for its use. But a provision allowing agencies "to require an admission permit for the occupancy and use of Federal lands for hunting and fishing" caused such an outcry that the bill was hastily withdrawn.
The administration tried again in July with a bill titled "National Park System Fee Dedication and Park Improvement Act of 1982," a more modest proposal affecting only the Park System. The new bill would place the Service's fee receipts in a special appropriations account for "the repair, maintenance, and improvement of facilities, the provision of safety and service, and the restoration, protection, and preservation of natural and cultural resources, for the benefit and enjoyment of visitors to the National Park System." The freeze on entrance fees would be eliminated (but not the $10 ceiling on the Golden Eagle).
Congress did not act on the bill before adjournment. similar bill was transmitted to the next Congress in March 1983, but died at the end of the 98th Congress.
A General Accounting Office study of park entrance fees in 1982 documented how low they were by historical standards and relative to those at comparable private attractions. It suggested that the fees be raised an average 150 percent, commensurate with a Golden Eagle increase to $25. It also noted some of the incidental benefits of entrance fee collection, such as the contact engendered between Service personnel and visitors.
A carload now pays $3 for admission to Yosemite, currently the highest entrance fee area in the National Park System. Considering that the maximum fee levied in 1926 was also $3 (at Yellowstone), the national parks must be among the biggest tourist bargains anywhere. Whether they should be quite such bargains remains a matter for debate.
The administration in its FY 86 Budget request assumes a government-wide initiative to increase recreation user fees to recover 25% of the Federal costs of providing recreation opportunities to the public. The administration and the Senate Budget Resolution assume receipts of $82 million in FY 86, $85 million in FY 87, and $89 million in Fi 88. The Resolution assumes that $40 million will be achieved by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, $21 million each from Senate Agriculture and Environment and Public Works Committees. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee has contested this assumption and asserts jurisdiction over fees as authorized by the Land and water conservation Fund Act.
C.. Should fees be assessed with the objective of making public land programs self sufficient?
2. Should fee receipts offset or reduce funds available through appropriations? Or should they supplant appropriated funds?
Should fees be used to limit access to public lands?
where should user
4. Where should entrance fees be imposed? fees be imposed?
5. What role should the Presidential Commission on ORRR play in determining the public policy on fees?
6. who, if anyone, should be exempted from fees?
7. Who should pay, how should the payment be made and who retains and distributes the funds collected?
8. Wnat degree of involvement should the private sector have in the fee debates: vis-a-vis providing recreational services in nearby areas?
Can special taxation replace the role of recreational fees? Wallop-Breaux? ] The Hearing
Representatives of the seven Federal land managing agencies who currently charge fees under the L&WCF Act have been invited to testify along with OMB.
Amount ($) of User Fees Collected by Agency, 1980-1984
User fee management units apply to overnight camping units only.
Amount ($) of Entrance fees Collected by the National Park Service, 1980-1984*
The National Park Service is the only agency which collects entrance fees
JAMES A MCCLUR DAMO, CHARMAN
J. DENNETT JOHNSTON, LOUISWA
WENDELL N. FORD. KENTUCKY
MOWARD M. METZENBAUM, OMIO JOHN W. WARNER VAGINA
JOHN MELCHER MONTANA FRANK N MUAKOWSKI, ALASKA
BILL BRADLEY, NEW JERSEY DON NICKLES, OKLAHOMA
JEFF BINGAMAN, NEW MEXICO CHIC HECHT, NEVADA
JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER N, WEST MAGINIA DANIEL J. EVANS. WASHINGTON
FRANK M. CUSHING, STAFF DIRECTOR
GARY G. ELLSWORTH, CHIEF COUNSEL
United States Senate
WASHINGTON, DC 20510
June 25, 1985
On Thursday, June 27 at 10:00 a.m., the Subcommittee on Public Lands, Reserved Water and Resource Conservation will conduct an oversight hearing on recreation fees. Representatives from the several land managing agencies as well as several interest groups will appear before the Subcommittee to discuss the fee issue.
Purpose of the Hearing
The Budget Resolution which passed the Senate on May 13 and is now the subject of a House/Senate conference, directs the Energy and Natural Resouces Committee to make changes in laws within our jurisdiction to achieve savings of $3.014 billion in budget authority in FY 1986. While most of the savings are assumed to come from a moratorium on funding for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the Resolution assumes that a portion of the savings will come from increased recreation user fees. Specifically, the Resolution assumes that users of federal recreation lands and facililities would be required to pay, through new or increased recreation fees, 25 percent of the costs associated with managing these resources.
According to the Administration and the Senate Budget Committee, this would amount to a total fee increase of $82 million. of this total, $40 million has been assigned to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee with the other $42 million split between the Senate Agriculture Comittee and the Environment and Public Works Committee. Since all recreation fees are authorized by the Land and Water Conservation Fund which is under our Committee's jurisdiction, there is some question about the assignment of these fees under the reconciliation process.
In any event, to comply with these fee related instructions, it will be necessary for the Committee to enact legislation