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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.”
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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.