It was just about a year ago when President Bush shipped his Fiscal 2007 budget proposal to Congress. That was the one that carried a $100 million cut for the National Park Service. Now, fortunately, that budget proposal was never enacted by Congress.
However, while the administration is touting its FY2008 budget proposal for the Park Service, the target of the president's budget cut from a year ago is in the sights again, although to a greater extent. Of the $100 million proposed to be slashed from the agency's FY07 budget over 2006 levels, nearly $85 million was destined to come from the Park Service's construction and major maintenance budget.
This time around that budget line is proposed to take a hit of about $114 million, according to Bill Wade of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.
"That's a pretty substantial decrease in the construction budget," Wade tells me, "and it looks like there will be a decline of some $24 million in land acquisition funding from 2006. That's where they're getting some of the money from the increases that they're touting."
Wade has mixed opinions on the latest budget proposal. He says it's nice to see the Park Service's operations budget get a decent boost, and that it's nice to see that the president wants to put more rangers out in the parks.
"I think the fact that there has been a lot of focus on restoring a lot of the annual operations capability in parks is unquestionably a good thing," he says, only to add that, "Certainly, it comes at the expense of some other things. There is a bit of robbing Peter to pay Paul."
That said, Wade ventures that, "given the overall situation that parks face, that's probably an appropriate trade-off."
Of course, it might not be to the parks that see proposed construction projects pushed off further into the future. Will Mesa Verde lose that museum and visitor's center Fran promised last summer? Will Apostle Islands National Lakeshore ever get the money it needs to repair and maintain its historic light stations?
One thing about the president's budget proposal that definitely chafes Wade is the plan to try to raise $3 billion in public and private funding to buff up the park system between now and the Park Service's centennial in 2016.
"You know, that seems to us to be another one of those examples of the increasing intent on the part of this administration in particular to continue to try to get private money to run the parks," says Wade. "We've said all along that we think that is a dangerous avenue to go down. ...I can't help but believe that it's not a good idea to keep pushing to get more private money to run the national parks. I don't think that's what the American people want."