On Wednesday the U.S. House voted – by a 3 to 1 margin – to approve the Great American Outdoors Act. The Senate passed the measure in June, and President Trump has indicated he will sign the legislation.
In a nutshell, the GAO Act provides some sorely needed funds for our National Parks. Needed because the Forest Service says the deferred maintenance backlog exceeds $5.2 billion across the nation. That’s important because around 143,000 people work for our national parks, which draw millions of visitors a year – and they spend about $10 billion that goes into local economies. Lawmakers hope the act will help boost rural economies near natural sites, create jobs, and accelerate economic recovery during the pandemic.
But… as it is want to do, Congress went a bit too far.
In fact, the GAO Act made me think of Will Rogers, the cowboy humorist famous early in the last century. Two quotes from Rogers seem appropriate to recall with the passage of the GAO Act:
“The difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.” – Will Rogers
“There is no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.” – Will Rogers
I’m sure Rogers would have a field day commenting about the GAO Act, especially the fact the Forest Service needs $5.2 billion but Congress approved $17 billion. Then there is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which was established in 1964 to use revenue from oil and gas on public lands to finance national parks and historic sites. Granted, oil prices are worse than cattle prices, so the LWCF money is probably a little thin at the moment.
Still, Congress passed – in the middle of a pandemic and with the national debt already past $26 trillion – a funding package three times the amount needed.
But that’s just money, and we can always print more of that. The bigger problems with the GAO Act are found in the details.
Agriculture groups, and cowboys in particular, have opposed the GAO Act from the beginning. A major sticking point is the legislation provides the LWCF $360 million each year for new land purchases.
Let that sink in. Congress gives the LWCF money to acquire more land to add to the 84 million acres in National Parks land they already can’t afford to maintain. And, the GAO Act does nothing to change the way federal agencies prioritize maintenance of assets so that history does not repeat itself.
In a letter to Congress sent earlier this summer, the Public Lands Council said: “This approach is counterproductive and will result in a larger federal estate that will require increasing maintenance over time.”
This seems like a good place to stop.
“If stupidity got us in this mess, how come it can’t get us out.” – Will Rogers