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RECREATION USER FEES
THURSDAY, JUNE 27, 1985
WATER AND RESOURCE CONSERVATION,
Washington, DC. The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:02 a.m., in room SD-366, Dirksen Office Building, Hon. Malcolm Wallop, presiding:
Present: Senators Wallop, McClure, Murkowski, Hecht, and Bumpers.
Also present: Tony Bevinetto and Patty Kennedy, professional staff members; and Thomas B. Williams, professional staff member for the minority. OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. MALCOLM WALLOP, A U.S.
SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF WYOMING Senator WALLOP. Good morning. Once again it seems clearly more useful that we adjourn it right now and just go sit on the lawn and talk about it. The mood would be better, and what we would accomplish might even be more than we will be able to this morning.
Let me just say by way of opening that I regret seriously that the one agency that could be useful in this morning's testimony is hiding downtown, and that's OMB. They are playing around with budget concepts that are totally irrelevant to what we're trying to examine here. The direct offset from a maintenance budget of fees collected is close to one of the most idiotic concepts I've heard in a long time.
How can there be a direct offset to a budget that hasn't been passed or a recommendation that has not been made? They could come up here and deal with us if that's what is going to be the case. I have no great hopes that they will, but sooner or later that confrontation will be met. And in confronting it in that way, we could be confronting it as reasonable people trying to accomplish something for the good of the Nation.
Following their directions, we're going to have nothing. The symbolism of it will be lost. It is difficult for me to understand why anybody running a national park would spend any time collecting fees if they are not, any of them, going to be used for the benefits of those parks in any part.
So I regret that. I regret that they held all the statements until too late for us to have a good examination of them, for obvious reasons. I regret that we will not be able to hear, but that we develop
it or elicit it through questions and responses, the real thinking of people who are with us, I think, trying to do something both for the budget and for the public lands systems that we all serve.
The purpose of the hearing this morning was to provide an opportunity to examine the matter of increasing the money received by the Federal Government and its park, forest, reservoir, and public land areas used for recreation purposes. Budget recommendations submitted to the Congress this year placed heavy reliance upon the increase of existing fees and the imposition of new fees upon recreation users as a means of generating additional income.
The Congress has not yet received a legislative proposal from the administration to implement these budget recommendations but we are going to provide these oversight hearings today to better prepare ourselves to deal with the legislative proposal, should it be forthcoming
The proposed expansion of the recreation fee system raises a number of practical and philosophical questions and problems. These include questions of recreation opportunity for low users of the public recreation estate and questions of the administrative practicality in trying to collect fees at areas which can be entered from any number of points.
I will admit to approaching this matter with some strong personal feelings on the subject. These feelings are hereditary and they were developed throughout a lifetime spent in the foothills, on the threshold of vast land holdings of the Federal Government. They were at my doorstep and they were available for hiking, for camping, for hunting, for fishing-just wandering around at will, at my choosing-in season, of course, Mr. Director.
The idea of stopping by a toll gate to enter these rich and pleasant lands does not come easily to one who has enjoyed their availability over the years.
Still, I think each of us is aware that the national financial situation is not what it once was and may not be again for some time to come. There are real and continuing expenses which must be met in order to protect and manage Federal lands for recreation users. Given the troublesome size of the Federal budget deficits, the cost of managing public lands and the continuing demand for access to lands by many people for numerous uses, there is a need to look at our options.
The witnesses may be assured that I eagerly await their presentation of any option which will address all of these considerations in an equitable manner and which will not require excessive or unreasonable fees from recreation users of the Federal lands and waters.
Obviously, we are not the first to address this issue. Entrance and user fees have been with us for a long time in this country, dating at least to the beginnings of the National Park Service. I was more than in passing interested to learn, for instance, that over the first 8 years of the National Park Service's existence, the fees charged on automobiles entering the parks raised from 20 percent to 53 percent of the amount appropriated by the Congress for operation of the National Park System, and I don't believe we even had an OMB at that time.
Now, speaking of fees, and appropriations brings to mind two matters. The first is that our current appropriations for parks are already at what I regard as a minimal level. Fee increases should be used for additional needs, not to reduce these appropriations. Any increased revenues from newer, higher recreation user fees must be treated as additional to the level of support now being provided.
My second matter also relates to the issue of protecting user fees for the benefit of the people who provided those fees. Unfortunately, again, some people downtown did not seem to recognize that the Congress takes that concept seriously, especially when we write it into the law, as we did in the Wallop-Breaux fund last year. In that act we provided that certain taxes on motor boat fuels and fishing gear would be collected and made available specifically for boating, safety, and fishery improvement purposes.
Yet, when the fiscal year 1986 budget appeared, boaters and fishermen found that something had been left out, and it was most of the revenue generated under the taxes they had agreed to pay and indeed they sought to pay. We have since ensured that the trust of those recreationists will not be disregarded and that the WallopBreaux moneys will indeed go to the purposes for which they were intended.
Having said this, I can only say that the OMB effort to divert those dollars was a poor showing for those who would propose additional recreation user fees with the glib promise of making them available for recreation purposes.
The Office of Management and Budget has made the task of selling the concept of expanded recreation fees immeasurably more difficult through that breach of faith.
The budget resolution which passed the Senate on May 13 and is now the subject of a House/Senate conference—was the subject of a House/Senate conference-directs the Energy and Natural Re sources Committee to make changes in laws within our jurisdiction to achieve savings of $3.014 billion in budget authority in 1986. While most of the savings are assumed to come from a moratorium on funding for the strategic petroleum reserve, the resolution does assume that users of Federal recreation lands and facilities would be required to pay for 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 being split between the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Yet, since all recreation fees are authorized by the Land and Water Conservation Fund which is under our committee's jurisdiction, there is some legitimate question about the assignment of these fees under the reconciliation process.
But in any event, to comply with these fee-related instructions, it will be necessary for our committee to shepherd through legislation giving the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture new authority to collect more fees in areas that currently charge them and to begin charging fees in areas where it is currently unlawful to do
so. And that is the primary purpose of the oversight hearing-to examine the options available to the committee in meeting the directives contained in the budget resolution.
It should be noted that the House-passed budget resolution does not assume these fee increases. Therefore, it is not clear at this point whether the final budget resolution, if there is one, will include these instructions regarding fees, nor is it clear what level of revenue would ultimately be raised, since the only way to ensure that increased fees will result in more income to the Treasury is to require people or force Americans to attend parks and pay fees. And that's the only guarantee that we have out there that any level will be collected.
In any event, this hearing will be helpful since significant fee increases and new fee-raising authority have been sought by the administration since 1981 and will likely be before the committee at some point during this Congress.
Some specific issues which we should examine, and I hope the witnesses will address, are the following:
One, should fees be assessed with the objective of making public land programs self-sufficient?
Two, should fee receipts offset or reduce funds available through the appropriation process? Or should they supplant appropriated funds?
Three, should fees be used to limit access to public lands?
Four, where should entrance fees be imposed? Where should user fees be imposed?
Five, what role should the Presidential Commission on Outdoor Recreation play in determining the public policy on fees?
Six, who, if anyone, should be exempted from the fees?
Seven, the opposite of that, who should pay, how should the payment be made, and who retains and distributes the funds collected?
Eight, what degree of involvement should the private sector have in the fee debates vis-a-vis providing recreational services in nearby areas?
Nine, can special taxation replace the role of recreational fees? Wallop-Breaux?
Both Mr. Bevinetto on my right and Mr. Williams have done intensive background memos which I think should be incorporated into the hearing record in order that the President's new Commission on Outdoor Recreation will have the information assembled in one document for their consideration.
[The memorandums referred to follow: