Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Warning on federal budget cuts impacting trails

Today I received an email alert from American Trails warning about proposed federal budget cuts that will have a profound impact on trails.

The U.S. House budget proposal would reduce funding for trails, parks, and land conservation by 90% out of the Land and Water Conservation Fund - virtually eliminating funds that are appropriated to states.

Major cuts are also proposed in the current House budget for a wide variety of construction, maintenance, and supporting programs on federal public lands. This includes trails and recreation areas on National Forests, Bureau of Land Management lands, US Fish & Wildlife Refuges, and the National Parks.

To me, it wasn't too hard to imagine this happening. Almost a year ago I published a blog detailing how several states were beginning to close parks, reduce services, or increase fees at several state parks around the country, all as a result of mounting dept. I pointed out that budget cuts will be much too easy for local, state and national parks in a debt crisis.

Right now, the United States owes more than $14 trillion. Or, to put it another way, every single tax payer in this country owes roughly $128,000.

To put that $14 Trillion figure in perspective, five years ago, at the end of 2005, the total national debt was "only" $8 Trillion - an increase of 75%. But the real scary story is that the projected national debt will balloon to nearly $21 Trillion in just 5 years. That's nearly another 50% increase!

To illustrate how completely insane government spending has become, the Internal Revenue Service said today that it needs to hire 81 workers, at a cost of $11.5 million, to make sure tanning salons pay the new 10% excise tax that was implemented as part of the healthcare reform. What's the ROI on that spending?

I don't mean to harp on this subject, but we have a huge problem on our hands, one that many politicians don't seem to be taking seriously. There are really two choices we can make at this point. We can make some tough cuts right now, and give up some skin in the game. Or, we can kick the can down the road for a few more years, at which point we'll have to pay with a couple of arms and legs.

You could say that Washington D.C. is spending like a drunken sailor, but that would be a disservice to drunken sailors around the world. At least a drunken sailor will stop buying drinks once he runs out of money. Government officials, on the other hand, keep spending on the taxpayers pocket book.



Wendy said...

I think volunteer organizations are going to have to step up even more than they already do for the parks and wildlife lands.

But you are right on about government spending. Cuts are going to have to occur, and as much as I love the National Parks system, I have to say they need to spend drastically less in all areas of government.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Wendy - great point on volunteerism. I also think that organizations like Friends of the Smokies and the GSM Association need to be more aggressive and more ceative in raising money for parks.

For example, I saw a program several years ago in which James Taylor (of Fire & Rain fame) did a float trip down the Grand Canyon. Why not do more of that type of thing, except that the parks could charge a nice sum for people to join the trip. It wouldn't necessarily have to be a celebrity of JTs stature. What if you had Dale Ditmanson, superintendent of the Great Smoky Mountains, be a guest speaker at a fundraising dinner, or lead a private tour at Cades Cove for people who pay a certain fee?

Just some ideas that I think parks should explore. I'm sure there are much better ideas than these.


Anonymous said...

If the country doesn't get its act together soon...this discussion will be moot because they'll have to shut down all parks - not just trails. The parks have never run at a profit and we are broke as a country.

Allan Stellar said...

Hi there,

We can still have our parks and trails too. We just need to start taxing the well to do a bit more. Returning the upper brackets to fifty percent would take care of the problem. Eisenhower's upper bracket tax rate was 91 percent. So fifty percent is nothing. And cutting the military budget in half would also be helpful. Do we really need over 900 military bases in 135 countries.

I'm all for a thrifty government. I just think we need to have those who made out like bandits over the last 30 years pay their fair share.

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...


I agree with you regarding the military bases in 135 countries. It seems excessive and one would have to think that a great deal of savings can be had with reductions and closures.

But to cut the military budget in half? C'mon, that's ridiculous.

With regards to the tax brackets. You do realize that would have no impact, right? It's a fact that no matter what the tax brackets have been in the past, the government still collects roughly 18% of GDP. The reason why this happens is quite simple, although they collect a higher percentage of individual incomes (a bigger slice of the pie), the higher taxes have resulted in a smaller pie. When you "tax the rich" at punitive rates, you reduce economic activity. The rich no longer are investing, or making purchases, which results in lower wages and higher unemployment. In other words, when you raise taxes you reduce demand.

Lower taxes results in more growth, and raises all boats - including the total amount of taxes collected.