Budget Politics Dominate Washington Scene

Steve Richer, DC correspondent

The Trump Administration federal budget for FY19 was just delivered to Congress, although the timing is unusual due to a just passed two year budget funding deal, created to avoid any more shutdowns or threats of one for the near term.

The massive budget proposal deals with the entire federal bureaucracy and offers the thinking of the Administration on a variety of issues, including which national programs are slated for elimination.

Taken in conjunction with the also new $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal, Washington is buzzing with discussions of federal program cutbacks, national debt numbers, new revenue sources, and privatization of some government activities.

International inbound operators are most focused on the proposals for public lands, especially national parks, and the new ideas for the massive infrastructure plan, both of which have been on IITA’s agenda for quite some time.

While it might be of interest to offer a discussion, for example, of twenty two federal agencies targeted for elimination and others directly or even indirectly related to tourism slated for significant reductions in funding, this review will be focused on just the public lands and infrastructure proposals.

Regarding the public lands and the critical national parks which are such a huge draw for international visitors, the Administration is recommending up to $18 billion in national park infrastructure backlog against an $11.6 acknowledged accumulation of needed work. IITA supports addressing this backlog as it is critical to keeping the national parks attractive with buildings in good repair, easy to navigate for cars, buses, and hikers, and the key motivators they have been in the international market.

Unfortunately, the means to pay for this backlog includes increased fees at the most popular national parks during high season, an overall reduction of 7% against both programs and staffing at the national level impacting all National Park Service locations, and new revenue from energy development which threatens the condition of the parks in terms of clean water and air, which can impact public health. IITA does not support these steps and will lobby for general fund resources to be used against the infrastructure backlog during Destination Capitol Hill on

March 21-22, when the tourism industry visits Congress. You can register for this event at www. ustravel.org. Join IITA Chairman Gary Schluter, Executive Director Lisa Simon, and other association leaders for this event.

On the $1.5 trillion national infrastructure proposal, IITA once again supports the general purposes of the funding to invest in roads, bridges, tunnels, and mass transit desperately in need of attention, as it is vital for the smooth movement of visitors to the United States and would put the nation back into a leadership role in transportation with other nations, particularly China, who have been make gigantic investments in this area.

Once again, however, there is cause for hesitancy in the details. Under the Trump Administration proposal, only $200 billion of the $1.5 trillion is from federal sources with the remainder coming from state and local government, as well as the private sector.

There are two challenges within these ideas. In the public sector portion, states and localities are accustomed to as much as a 90-10 federal match with the federal government, supplying the 90%. Hard pressed state and local governments, most of whom must present balanced budgets annually will be in difficult positions to generate the amount of funding preliminarily contemplated in this proposal.

On the private sector side, any investments must be based on the concept of ROI—return on investment. If so, any private sector funding will anticipate user fees, most likely in the form of tolls, thereby passing along the investment costs to the public by adding new costs for travel with probable larger fees on the movement of groups using buses and other forms of transportation, including upgraded airports and intermodal transit.

IITA leaders suggest supporting the idea of infrastructure investment, but with alternative direct federal funding.

Congress is unlikely to accept either of these proposals as submitted by the Trump Administration. In order to see appropriate changes in funding sources and reduced funding, it is critical to hear from constituents and impacted industries. No group is more influential than international inbound operators who generate the visitors who provide the positive balance of trade in the tourism sector of the national economy.