Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Parks Step Up Lobbying Efforts

Impending Budget Cuts Spur Intense Advocacy

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is one of the country’s 397 national parks facing an 8 percent budget reduction triggered by automatic spending cuts.

Lobbyists of all stripes are preparing campaigns to save their industries from sequestration, and the K Street allies of the Badlands and the Statue of Liberty are no exception.

The mandatory across-the-board cuts triggered by the super committee's failure would mean an 8 percent budget reduction for all nondefense programs in 2013, including the country's 397 national parks such as the new Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the earthquake-damaged Washington Monument.

Even after bruising debt negotiations this summer, advocates for the national parks are poised for action with a visit to Capitol Hill already scheduled for this week.

The parks have perhaps no better lobbyist than Iliff McMahon, former mayor of Cocke County, Tenn., which borders Great Smoky Mountains National Park 814 square miles of wooded mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee. McMahon came to Washington earlier this fall to make a plea for parks, citing the roughly $35 million in tourism revenue that the park generates for Cocke County every year.

"People are not going to come visit your park if it's in disarray, if it's grown over, if it's not properly protected and not properly serviced," McMahon told Roll Call. "You're hurting the peripheral business that grows up around the parks. I'm talking about the cabin rentals, fly fishing, sky diving and mountain biking. ... Those are small businesses."

McMahon is also a member of the southeast regional council of the National Parks Conservation Association, the chief advocacy organization for national parks and their employees.

The organization has spent about $300,000 on lobbying this year, including more than $100,000 during the heat of the debt negotiations this summer and the early deliberations of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction. A similar state-focused organization, the Recreation and Park Association, spent another $50,000 lobbying Congress and the administration between July and September.

In Washington terms, it's a relatively small number the health care industry, for example, spent $10 million on lobbying in that same period, according to the Sunlight Foundation but considering that funding for the National Park Service makes up about one-thirteenth of 1 percent of the total national budget, park advocates seem to be going all out.

By comparison, the defense industry, which is likely to be hardest-hit by the sequestration, spent only about $160,000 on lobbying in the third quarter.

If sequestration takes effect as scheduled, NPCA expects that national parks would lose out on about $230 million in fiscal year 2013 and in the 10 years following that.

Sequestration would be split evenly between the nonexempt portions of defense and nondefense spending, requiring about a $55 billion annual cut to each. In 2015, for example, that would mean a $32 billion cut to new nondefense discretionary spending, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

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