‘User Fee’ outrage simmers
Within a few months, the nation’s capital city will be
crawling with tourists — especially student groups — hop-scotching as
sightseers between public monuments and galleries and museums maintained
by their government.
Freeze frame that picture right there, then add this:
Several hundred of these visitors are stopped at the
entrance to the White House and asked at the door if they’ve paid their
"user fee" for access to "the people’s house."
Not if the trend to "user fees" continues in
Members of Congress, now aided by Bush budget writers, are
shifting more responsibility for costs of operating and maintaining public
properties to "user fees" and away from the general federal
budget that has been the traditional succor for national historic and
So, why not "user fees" for visiting the White
House, the Washington Monument, the U.S. Mint, the U.S. Capitol, the
Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, Arlington Cemetery? (You can bet your
last dollar that members of Congress won’t levy a "user fee"
on themselves for the parking spaces at Reagan National Airport reserved
"User fees" for merely hiking on public lands in
the West began as a three-year test. Now it’s nearly five years old —
a sure sign the "test" is here to stay.
Because Congress has been choking off appropriations, the
Forest and National Park services have been compelled to use "user
fees" not for the promised improvement of federal lands but for
As Seattle Times columnist Ron Judd discovered
while poking through government reports, the Forest Service collected
$88.4 million in user fees last year, spending $67.5 million, of which
more than 80 percent went to "repair and maintenance, interpretation
and signing, facility enhancement, fee collection and annual operation
Judd’s peek at the National Park Service’s ledger
showed this — of $133 million collected in user fees last year, 21
percent alone ($27.7 million) was spent just on collecting the fees.
Incidentally, the reports showed that user fee collections have been
dropping since the "test" began.
Public resentment is boiling over user fees to simply
enjoy public lands.
It’s bound to explode into a seething geyser of public
rage when the user fee "test" moves into the next phase —
prosecution of hapless taxpayers who haven’t bought their passes and are
caught strolling in a tranquil woodland with their children and pet dog.
Meanwhile, while Congress saddles taxpayers with user fees
to simply enjoy their own lands, Washington’s politicians continue to
coddle influential industries with indefensibly low and obsolete
extraction fees on minerals they harvest from public lands and then
transform into billions of dollars in profits.