Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Ohio rides roughshod over the West

Any lame duck worth the name should be red faced about the actions of the Lame Duck Congress.

Ducks are noble creatures. If they intend to eat your garden tomatoes, they turn and waddle straight toward the objects of their desire, quacking their intent all the way. Then, in bright daylight, hiding from none, they dig their orange beaks into the summer's harvest. Ducks with a little limp are no less forthright.

Not so a newly energized Republican Congress, still intoxicated with the results of this month's election.

Last Saturday, Congress approved a bill that allocated money to keep the wheels of government turning. But the bill was more than a matter of money.

Without debate on the floor, without hearings in front of any committee, a rider attached to the bill while no one was looking made fees charged for setting foot on public land permanent.

And, heads up cowboys and cowgirls. Here's the best part. If you step foot on public land without a permit, you could become a criminal.

The fees have been a matter of hot debate in the West where public land is part of its heritage. A quartet of powerful western senators including Senator Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico), Senator Craig Thomas, (R-Wyoming), Sen. Larry Craig, (R-Idaho), and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana) had opposed the fees and had defeated one attempt to attach the fee-demo provision to the spending bill.

Nonetheless, Ohio Republican Sen. Ralph Regula, the father of public land fees, slipped the rider into the bill with the friendly help of Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens who is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

With no hearing, no debate, and no separate vote, the fee flipped fast.

When the bill becomes law, drivers, owners and occupants of cars that do not display the proper paid tags, may face fines of up to $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail.

It's worth noting here that there is no federal land in Regula's state of Ohio.

Regula's move was lowdown and sneaky, unworthy of any U.S. Senator. Yet, it may be a preview of what is to come in President George W. Bush's second term.

To fulfill promises of continuing income tax cuts in the face of a ballooning deficit, the administration and Republican Congress will have no choice but to push new fees on everything from forests to fruitcakes. While one hand gives, the other will take away.

Just a theory? We think not. Within days after the election, administration officials were floating plans for new national sales or manufacturing taxes.

We look forward to the day when sidewinders like Regula have to put a dollar in the slot just to enter a federal office building. After all federal land is federal land, and fair's fair.

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