Letter: Great American Outdoors Act will not help mountain towns recover from COVID-19
I agree with Patrick Randall when he wrote that rural communities have tough times ahead, but enacting the Great American Outdoors Act is not the way for mountain towns to recover from COVID-19. After Congress just passed trillions of dollars in much-needed emergency spending due to COVID-19, the Senate is on the brink of adding tens of billions of dollars to the taxpayer burden through the GAO Act.
The GAO Act does two things: creates $9.5 billion in new mandatory spending for deferred maintenance and provides funding for new projects and land acquisition by fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. For some, the $9.5 billion of mandatory spending for deferred maintenance is tempting; however, it does not fix the problem.
The reality is that $9.5 billion is less than half of all the deferred maintenance on existing public lands, and there is no plan to address the other half. Federal agencies already cannot pay for what they own, which is what makes the second function of the bill so much worse.
The bill also makes funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund mandatory. That means Congress will no longer have a say in how the federal government spends the $900 million dollars each year, and that money will continue flowing until the end of time.
If passed, federal agencies would have $360 million every year solely for the purpose of buying new land, and the people we elected to represent us in Congress are saying “no, we don’t need to be involved.” They are willingly giving up their responsibility to oversee this spending and telling the American people that our tax dollars will have to dig us out of another deferred maintenance hole later.
Patrick is right that public lands are vital to our local communities. Our National Parks, forests and prairies are important habitats and drive important parts of our economy: tourism, recreation and agriculture. I want the government to take care of what they already own. If you went into debt trying to take care of one house, you would not buy seven more. The government should not either.
Together, we can take care of these places that are so special to us. Congress should not push them aside for the sake of expediency. Congress should vote “no” on the GAO Act.
Associate director of specialty communications of the Public Lands Council
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