By: Stephen B. Richer, DC Correspondent
With Congress out on its August recess, the post-Labor Day return of both Representatives and Senators brings the twin deadlines for funding the federal government with some form of appropriations for agencies yet unfunded and raising the federal debt ceiling to prevent the government from reaching its debt limit.
In practical terms, the dual deadline for these actions is September 30.
Last week in Phoenix President Trump threatened to allow the government to close down if funds to build his proposed wall on the Mexican border are not appropriated., Few experienced hands in Washington expect that comment to be more than posturing. When push comes to shove, it is anticipated that the President will sign both the funding measures–most likely to be continuing resolutions (CRs)–and an increase in the debt ceiling, possibly in the same omnibus bill.
Even under those circumstances, however, there are outstanding fiscal issues of grave concern to inbound operators, including how the national parks will be funded for both programs and operations, whether the deep cuts in the State Department budget will impact the speed of visa processing or reduce the number of visas awarded to visitors, and whether there will ever be any infrastructure funding which includes repairs to the road maintenance backlog at national parks.
In the forefront of these issues is whether there will be a bipartisan approach to the continuation of certain kinds of funding for national parks. The staffing question is already on the table due to the recommended cuts. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the Administration budget proposes an 8% cut in operations, a 6% reduction in staff, and a 9% drop in deferred maintenance, despite a $12 billion backlog.
Those cuts will have an impact on the attractiveness of our national parks and the experience international visitors enjoy.
As the Interior Budget will be one of those addressed immediately upon the return of Congress, inbound operators should be in touch with their representatives now, especially if they serve on any committees or subcommittees with jurisdiction over the national parks.
The stalled legislation on a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill which was a major campaign issue for the President is also having an impact on the national parks, as some of the maintenance backlog was intended to be in that package per comments by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Additionally, the deep State Department budget cuts, loss of staff, and increased vetting of visas have created another circumstance in which there are less resources and personnel to do more work. IITA previously sent out a survey to see if inbound tour operators had experienced a change in visa processing. If you have not yet participated in this survey please follow this link to complete it.
Once armed with the information supplied by our inbound operators, IITA can share with policy makers how any State Department cuts in funding and staff are affecting the favorable balance of trade provided from inbound tourism.
The issues of national park operations and physical conditions as well as, the processing of visas in a timely and fair way are the key fiscal issues impacting inbound operators.
September is a key month to communicate with Capitol Hill on these critical fiscal issues. Don’t wait to share your interests on these matters with your federal representatives. October will be too late.