National Park Fees, State Gas Taxes and the AG’s Policy Choices

Joel Fox

Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily


California Attorney General Xavier Becerra wants to keep national park fees down so poor people can afford entry in their vehicles. However, the gas tax repeal effort, which critics say he disfavors based on the title and summaries he authored on repeal initiatives, might keep drivers from even reaching the parks because of the increased cost of gas.

Becerra did not think it necessary to emphasize words “tax” and “fee” in his title of the initiative efforts to repeal gas taxes that are designed to maintain roads. However, the word “fee” is up front in a letter he co-signed with other state attorneys general protesting a Trump Administration proposed action raising national park fees for among other things road maintenance within the parks.

The letter says making it more affordable to enter the parks for all is a matter of policy. But then again so is raising the gas tax on all.

A Sacramento judge thought Becerra’s title on the first of two repeal initiatives filed to overturn the tax was misleading. According to the judge, the title obscured the essence of the initiative to repeal the new tax by stating that the measure repealed “revenues” dedicated to road repair and transportation funding.

An appeals court overturned the lower court’s decision saying the Attorney General has great latitude in writing titles and summaries.

However, the policy matters remain. Are the poor affected by tax and fee increases?

The park service is looking for a $70 fee for each private, noncommercial vehicle, up to a 180% increase. Fees would also be increased for motorcycle, foot and bicycle entries.

Becerra’s letter is for keeping costs to all down to achieve entrance to the parks. Bravo. I’m for that. And, yes the California roads need help. I’ve believed that for a long time. In fact, in 1988 I was a co-proponent with Paul Gann on an unsuccessful initiative, Proposition 72, that would direct more of the funds already collected to pay for transportation.

We heard the debate over the gas tax. Many who opposed the 12-cent a gallon gas tax increase and related fee increases argued that the tax was regressive. It would hurt most those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. Some opponents focused on minority community members who would have to pay much more for transportation to get to work.

That same argument about minorities suffering from a fee increase makes an appearance in the letter signed by Becerra. The letter addressed to the Acting Director of the National Park Service says, “All Americans should have access to these lands, especially communities that the Service’s surveys show have often been underrepresented, including inner city children and Hispanic-American and African-American populations.”

The same principle of keeping costs down for poor apply under the gas tax passed by the legislature and the fees for the parks.

Of course, there is a key difference between the park fees and the gas taxes. Jerry Brown supports the tax and fee increase in California while the national parks increase is supported by Donald Trump.

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