Who’s Going to Pay?

Early this week, the Department of Interior announced plans to increase the entrance fees to some seventeen of the nation’s largest national parks in 2018, more than doubling the previous fees during the most crowded times. Among those parks are several here in Utah, including Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, and Arches.

The local reaction was fierce and immediate, not to mention negative, all along the lines that families can’t afford to pay $70 per car [now $30] or $30 per individual [up from $15] just to get into a national park. And if families can’t or won’t do that, Utah tourism will take a significant hit.

I understand the reaction, even if the proposed fee is far less than a day at Disneyland or Disney World. But I also understand the problems facing the National Park Service, which needs desperately to repair decades-old and damaged infrastructure, an infrastructure that gets damaged more each year by the increasing number of visitors. Currently, the Park system’s maintenance/repair backlog exceeds eleven billion dollars.

What also struck me was that this is the same reaction to all too many government programs, whether it’s SNAP/food stamps, health insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, disaster relief, interstate roads and bridges, tuition and fees at state universities… the list is seemingly endless. The least affluent members of society are hit the hardest by either increasing costs or decreasing services, and because politicians don’t ever want to raise taxes on anyone, either things don’t get fixed, or a few things get some help, and federal spending is financed more and more by increasing deficits.

It’s a national epidemic of “We need this, but we don’t want to pay for it.”

And yet, despite ballooning deficits, the Republican-led Congress and the President are pushing for massive tax cuts, claiming that such tax cuts will fuel growth that will wipe out the deficits. This is political bullshit and voodoo economics erroneously based on the experience of the tax cuts proposed by President Kennedy and signed into law by President Johnson as the Revenue Act of 1964, which reduced the top individual rate from 91% to 70%. The corporate tax rate was reduced from 54% to 48%. In fact, there was a moderate but significant growth attributed to those tax cuts.

Today, the tax rates are much different, and much lower than then. The top individual rate is 39.6% for individuals [with taxable incomes above $418,000 a year] and 35% for corporations, although the average rate paid for corporations is closer to 20% [and some large corporations pay no tax at all]. In addition, statistics show that there’s plenty of unused capital that’s not being invested in new businesses or jobs because the demand isn’t there. Since most of the tax cuts will go to the well-off, they won’t increase spending by the bulk of the population, which is what would be required to stimulate demand significantly.

And that means that the problem of “needs” being greater than the funds to pay for those needs is only going to get worse. And while many decry the growth of Social Security and Medicare, exactly how else, at present, are we as a nation going to provide for people too old and too infirm to work? Then, too, regardless of political philosophy, meeting some of those needs, such as our aging infrastructure, an overcommitted military, disaster relief and rebuilding, and yes, the national parks and the environment, are vital to the future of the country.

But no one wants to pay for enough for them… or to agree on what spending can be cut.

14 thoughts on “Who’s Going to Pay?”

  1. John Prigent says:

    It would probably help if so many people didn’t have a sense of ‘entitlement’. People on low incomes asking for subsidised or rent-controlled housing of a quality that 50 years ago as beyond the reach of most people, others wanting free medical care, and of course the ever-increasing multitude of overpaid (and over-pensioned)’executives’ and ‘administrators’ in public service.

    1. RRRea says:

      This last bit is laughable. In the extreme. Overpaid public administrators? Look to the private sector to see VASTLY overpaid and bloated executives and administration. There’s a reason those “overpaid administrators” are so easily captured by private industry in order to thwart the laws they used to uphold in the name of profit. Guess what? It’s salaries that can be TEN TIMES as much as they were making in goverment service. If you want more reasonablly paid public servants (which are, as a rule, massively underpaid), then, physician heal thyself and start getting rid of millions of dollars in bonuses, golden parachutes, executives making over 300 times as much as their average employee and so on…

      1. John Prigent says:

        I don’t disagree with you RRRea,but I was thinking specifically of the ones paid by the taxpayer. The ‘private industry’ ones aren’t paid out of taxes so chopping them down to their true values wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to how the tax revenues are spent.

  2. Alison Hamway says:

    I don’t disagree that our national parks are overused and under funded. But as Timothy Egan points out in the NY Times today (“National Parks for the 1%”) Trump is tripling the parks fees AND slashing the budget for national parks by a far greater amount. That is a plan that will damage our national park system.

  3. R. Hamilton says:

    I would suppose that parks have both fixed costs (that change little regardless of the number of visitors) and variable costs (that are proportionate to the number of visitors).

    IMO, it would be more than generous on the part of the taxpayer if:
    * fixed costs were paid mostly from taxes
    * variable costs were paid mostly from entrance and usage fees
    * some portion of variable costs, such as reduced rates
    for the elderly or means-tested poor, might be supported by a combination of the two…but preferably, mostly by fees

    By “more than generous”, I mean in particular that the number of national parks tends to only increase, never decrease (however wonderful for eco-tourists and the environment that may be); and thus, the expense also always increases, regardless of how far behind in infrastructure maintenance they may be, or of how that expense is paid for.

    obDisclosure: yes, I very rarely do visit national parks, but not necessarily even once a year. And I can afford the higher fees, and the IMO too high income tax too, so they’re not an issue for me one way or the other. But I do tend to think that those who use something, should bear the lion’s share of the costs associated with their use of it.

    1. Hanneke says:

      I could wish that principle were applied more broadly, like taxing vehicles for all the land-use costs associated with parking, taxing gasoline and diesel enough so use of vehicles that cause the necessity of road maintenance produce the budget needed to maintain the roads, taxing or fining businesses that dump their wastes in our water and air enough to pay for full cleanup… they use public space, water, air etc. – they should pay for that. Instead there are subsidies for things like oil, corn and meat (large monocultures promoted by those subsidies cause damage to the surrounding area and human health, through pesticide use and feeding antibiotics to livestock).
      There are so many areas in which the costs for maintenance and repair is put on the rest of society, while the ones who cause the need for that get away without paying…

      1. John Prigent says:

        We used to have that system in the UK, Hanneke. It was called the Road Fund Licence and you had to pay it to use the public roads, with the proceeds used only to build new roads and maintain existing ones. But it was too tempting a target, so now it’s given a different name and just goes into the general treasury – and of course we don’t get our roads maintained, and new ones are often toll-roads. So now we have a system of local authority taxes for road use and parking as well, theoretically earmarked for road repairs and the building of car parks. But some idiot politician decided that it could also be used for subsidising pubic transport, so guess how much goes on road maintenance and car parks. If you don’t really want to follow us down the drainpipe, your proposal needs to be absolutely iron-clad and the proceeds impossible to divert in the pork barrel – good luck with that!

      2. R. Hamilton says:

        “land use costs associated with parking”? Most parking is on private land, which at least in the US is subject to local property taxes, even if, depending on location, at a lower assessment than for a more developed property. Most parking downtown in major cities is very heavily taxed if not city-owned, whether to take more money from tourists, or to encourage downtown workers to use public transportation.

        I’m fine with putting costs where they belong, up to a point; but more taxes, or more attempts to stick it to the rich or corporations or people that have the sheer gall to prefer private vehicles to public transportation, is usually just an excuse for more government, more government programs, more manipulative behavior on the part of government to encourage or discourage conduct that remains legal, and more redistribution.

  4. Alison Hamway says:

    R Hamilton, the problem with the current national parks fee proposal is they are INCREASING the fees dramatically, while hugely REDUCING the parks budget. The extra fees won’t do a thing to improve park maintenance or services for visitors. (70 million in additional fees, 300 million in cuts per NY Times). The overall number of visitors to the parks is INCREASING, not decreasing.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      If the higher fees keep people out, maybe the number of visitors will decrease.

      Apparently the objective is to spend less, not just transfer funding sources, nor improve maintenance and services. And I’m ok with that objective, too. Maybe those who don’t have a 4WD and don’t want to rough it, should stay out of parks, which will further reduce the number of visitors. Maybe they should just be nature preserves and not something people can visit at all, which would make the ecofreaks happy (except that it would exclude them too). Amusement parks pay for themselves, why shouldn’t national parks either pay for themselves, or have their gates closed?

      I like NASA; but I’d see them shut down if the principle of eliminating all non-essential domestic spending was carried that far across the board – and if benefits, entitlements, and other federal sustenance of the unproductive (excepting only those injured in public service) were also cut to the bone.

      Oh, fund $$ for shooting rioters if too many people don’t appreciate austerity; bullets are cheap, and so are the lives of rioters.

  5. Wayne Kernochan says:

    Thanks, Mr. Modesitt, for talking thoughtfully about a topic that I have only recently begun to revisit, for the first time since my stint as a Dept. of Interior intern 45-odd summers ago.

    I think that the Trump/Western Republican proposal, along with support for opening public lands to mining etc. leases, has its roots in distrust of government/environmentalists initiated during the late-1800s “cattle era”. I just finished a book called Cattle Kingdom, which I think makes several points relevant to this viewpoint:

    (1) Theodore Roosevelt, who was himself a rancher at one point, made the national parks precisely because individualistic non-governmental greed and stupidity, which he witnessed first-hand, were destroying the West for everybody, ecologically. Hence the ghost towns where cattle barons once reigned. Those who stayed in the area after the crash of the “cattle bubble” have cherished the myth that individualistic cowboys “won the west”, while refusing to see that, legally, most Western land belongs to the government, and has from the beginning.

    (2) Fees for use of these public lands are not meant to fund the operations of government, but to allow the general public to use and appreciate the parks while compensating the government for the extra work of servicing the public on top of the other expenses of managing the land in its best long-term interest. Despite this, Interior was when I was there one of the two self-funding departments (I think Commerce was the other). Cutting funding while hiking fees is therefore not only bad government practice; it’s bad business practice.

    (3)Two recent new environmental initiatives are apparently doing far more to make the West around national parks a better place to live than all the posturing about government: (a) the reintroduction of the grey wolf, which by limiting overgrazing by elk is bringing back the healthy grass that must overlay what was once the Great American Desert, else Dust-Bowlification; (b) use of “holistic” cattle grazing that simulates the grazing patterns of the bison that used to fertilize the plains without overgrazing. Of course, these came about through government/environmental research …

    Oh, and I can’t resist adding that I am sure R Hamilton, should he face starvation because of austerity, will have the decency to starve quietly, without rioting, as his philosophy would seem to indicate he should.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      No, I’d go hunting, maybe turn cannibal eating left-wingers, save that I’d be risking the human equivalent of mad-cow disease if I did that.

      But I wouldn’t riot.

      Right now, quite separate from government stealing from me via taxes, I’m probably keeping some people from starving using my own resources. If you really think someone should be looked after, that’s how to do it. If you think _everyone_ should be looked after, you must be God or something, because I for one don’t know everyone, and don’t want to; enough other people voluntarily taking care or one or two themselves, will leave very few falling through the cracks.

      And if we don’t care enough to do it that way, we should just be honest and say that Darwin wants the weak to die off. Shifting responsibility to government is like saying everybody is responsible so _no_body is responsible.

      1. DArcherd says:

        Since we live in a democracy, the government cannot possibly be “stealing” from you via taxes. That government is us, as in ‘we the people’. You may disagree with the uses to which those taxes are put which is your right as a voting citizen, but those taxes were imposed as a result of legislative representatives who were all elected by majorities, i.e. ‘we the people’. I’m proud to pay my taxes. It is the price of civilization.

  6. David Sims says:

    The underlying problem, Mr. Modesitt, is the way money comes into existence in our country, which is as an interest-bearing loan. In the tightening of nearly everyone’s financial situation, you are observing the endgame of the Federal Reserve System’s usury scam. The rich industrialists and the poor underclass have both been induced to develop a blind spot for this ultimate cause of the economic blight on them both.

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