While our presidents praise America's magnificent national park system, they're not maintaining them. Bill Clinton, for example, spoke of how lucky he was to have Hot Springs National Park as a childhood playground. Yet he sat idle as that park's natural wonders and facilities deteriorated — and as the Park Service's maintenance backlog soared to $5 billion.
Likewise, in his 2000 campaign, a khaki-clad George W posed in the majestic Cascade Mountain Range. Wailing that parks were "at the breaking point," he vowed to eliminate Clinton's backlog. Instead, he slashed the NPS budget (including a 40 percent cut for repairs of the very park he'd used as a political prop). The maintenance backlog ballooned to nearly $9 billion under his presidency. Ranger George did make one fix, however — a PR fix. Bush operatives instructed park superintendents to make budget cuts, but not to call them cuts. Instead, they were to say that our parks were undergoing "service level adjustments."
Under Obama, who speaks movingly of a childhood Greyhound bus trip with his family to see some of our parks, another 12 percent has been chopped from the NPS budget — bumping the deferred maintenance bill to a staggering $11.5 billion! To his credit, Obama has proposed a 2016 "Centennial Budget" for NPS, mitigating years of destructive underfunding and calling for $1 billion to address the backlog. Good for him. But that still leaves a $10 billion shortfall, and the sour duo of Sen. Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner will oppose even that little increase for the maintenance of these invaluable public assets.
Our so-called "leaders" are literally stripping "service" out of the National Park Service and assuring that our national treasures will fall into acute disrepair. It's a bipartisan disgrace.
Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.