At a recent House of Representatives hearing focused on forced budget cuts, California Democrat Jackier Speier questioned whether the nation could afford seniors’ $10 lifetime pass into national parks.
"There's a lot of people who can pay more than $10 for the rest of their lives,” Speier said to her fellow representatives and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis on Tuesday.
Speier’s question comes at a difficult time for the parks, which face a $153 million budget gap due to $85 billion in automatic budget cuts between now and September 30. To make matters worse, the park service—like most other agencies—has a limited ability to move money between accounts to cover these cuts.
With most Americans opposed to higher taxes that could help maintain these areas, officials must consider other ways to raise money.
A national parks pass will run most adults $80, and they must buy a new pass every year. For seniors, however, $10 will allow them to visit 391 national parks, monuments, battlefields and other protected areas for the rest of their lives. The National Park Service sold 500,000 senior passes in 2012 for a total of $5 million. Even doubling the cost of the senior pass wouldn't make much difference in the Parks budget overall, but it could generate an additional $5 million.
Budget cuts are already taking a toll. The Parks Service and other agencies have laid off 1,000 seasonal employees and forced others to take unpaid leave. In addition, some officials are delaying the opening of visitor centers and the plowing of snowy roads that lead to parks such as Yellowstone.