National Park fees a start, but let’s fix funding problems

Cross Currents
A column by Bill Christopher
Posted 4/30/18

There is some good news coming out of the U.S. Interior Department. The 109,000 comments submitted by the public addressing the proposed huge jump in national park entrance fees must have sunk in …

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National Park fees a start, but let’s fix funding problems

Posted

There is some good news coming out of the U.S. Interior Department.

The 109,000 comments submitted by the public addressing the proposed huge jump in national park entrance fees must have sunk in with Secretary Ryan Zinke and his staff.

I wrote about opposing the large increase in price and suggested looking for other ways to raise revenue along with a multi-year plan to gradually raise the fees. While the National Park Service and Congress acknowledge the clear need to increase revenue to address the $11.6 billion in deferred maintenance throughout the system, resolving the problem isn’t going to be any “quick fix.” Congress has been remiss for many years in not adequately addressing the growing deferred maintenance issues.

So, the recently announced plan calls for a $5 increase at 17 popular national parks which makes the fee $35. Most of these parks are in the western part of the United States.

Congress needs to step up the annual funding

Turning to our popular Rocky Mountain National Park, there will continue to be a day pass which will jump $5.00 for a total of $25. Originally, the day pass was targeted to be eliminated.

The seven-day vehicle pass will also increase by $5 for a new price of $35 while the annual pass will become $70 after a $10 increase. It had been proposed earlier to jump the seven-day pass to $70.

The estimated cost of repairs, replacements and new capital improvements at RMNP is a whopping $84 million. So, we can see in this one national park example that $5 and $10 increases in fees will not begin to close the funding gap.

Congress needs to get serious about a long-term plan to increase funding to preserve the legacy of our national parks. We are truly blessed with a wonderful collection of nature’s wonderful sites throughout America.

We need to tell our Congressional representatives to be good stewards in approving increased annual funding for the nation’s parks to preserve our national treasures.

U.S. Supreme court to decide

A monumental financial decision awaits the U.S. Supreme Court this session. The issue centers on whether or not retailers will be required to collect sales tax on items sold in states where they do not have a physical store or building.

Currently, any Internet sale in states where the retailer has a physical presence requires the collection and remittance of sales taxes.

The case before the high court involves online retailers Wayfair, Overstock.com and Newegg which are challenging a South Dakota law enacted back in May 2017. The law requires out-of-state retailers that have sales of more than $100,000 or over 200 transactions a year in the state to collect and remit sales tax on the transactions.

The current law goes back to a decision rendered by the high court in 1992 known as Quill vs North Dakota. This landmark decision prohibited the imposition of sales tax on sales involving retailers where they did not have a physical presence in the respective state.

Creating a level playing field for retailers

It has long been argued that sales taxes should be allowed throughout the United States regardless of where each retailer might have a physical presence.

For many years, Main Street U.S.A. brick and mortar stores have had to collect and remit the taxes. Internet sales had first totally eluded sales taxes being imposed and then later it was clarified with the physical presence criteria.

A sale is a sale regardless of where and how it is consummated. Retailers should be treated equally and have a “level playing field” when it comes to taxes.

Under the existing rules, Internet sales will continue to grow at an accelerated pace leaving Main Street stores in a declining status. In time, Main Street stores will close one by one leaving downtown areas a “ghost town.” Is that what we want in our communities? I don’t think so.

Our retail areas need the protection of the high court. Certainly in Colorado, this is a huge issue. Colorado municipalities depend more on sales tax revenues to fund general operating expenses than most states. Colorado towns and cities are far less dependent on property tax revenue than most states to pay the bills. If the U.S. Supreme Court decides to keep the status quo on imposing across the board sales taxes, it will have a long-term chilling impact on Colorado cities and the state government.

Teachers’ pay is an embarrassment

Finally this week, I want to weigh in on the teachers in Colorado, West Virginia, Oklahoma and other states where they are either striking or protesting over the need for more funding and higher salaries.

Teaching is an honorable and much-needed profession. States require a college degree to teach which is both expensive and usually takes four years of a person’s life.

However, their pay is an embarrassment. In 2016, Colorado ranked 30th in teachers’ pay when compared to their peers in other states, according to National Education Association. And according to a recent study by the Education Law Center, a 25-year old teacher in Colorado makes 69 percent of their peers with similar education and work similar hours.

This is disgraceful.

With Colorado’s high level of education among its residents, you would think teachers’ salaries would be a much more important issue.

Hopefully, the additional funding for K-12 schools in the upcoming state budget will in part go to increasing teachers’ salaries.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

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