Votes Coming Soon for GAOA
Chris Bornemann, director of federal affairs for the RV Industry Association, is keeping a close eye on the nation’s capital these days, and in particular the U.S. Senate. The upper chamber of the U.S. Congress is scheduled to vote as soon as this week – although it was not on the Senate’s calendar as of Monday – on the Great American Outdoors Act.
The act combines the Restore Our Parks Act – which the RVIA has been ardently supporting for years – with the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“This will be one of the largest investments in our public lands in the last 60 years, if not ever,” said Bornemann during a conference call last week. “The last major investment in federal lands was back in the 1960s, and the parks have been doing their best to keep up with deferred maintenance fees but the funding from Congress is just not there.”
Monday afternoon in Washington, the Senate invoked cloture by a vote of 80-17, which means the full body will be voting on the Great American Outdoors Act (S. 3422) within days.
If passed by both houses of Congress and then signed into law by President Trump, which he has stated publicly he will do, the double-duty bill would provide up to $9.5 billion over five years to the Restore Our Parks Act and then permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund to the tune of $900 million annually.
The National Parks Service has a backlog of maintenance needs that include roads, bridges, visitor centers, campgrounds and more, estimated at some $12 billion. But the money goes farther than that, Bornemann said: The Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs will all benefit. And through the Restore Our Parks portion of the funding, portions of the money also will trickle down to the state and local level.
“We also see this legislation as helping local economies across the nation by creating jobs and bolstering small businesses in rural gateway communities,” Bornemann said. “A recent Pew study has shown that this legislation could help support nearly 110,000 infrastructure-related jobs, most in these struggling rural communities.”
The GAOA’s funding won’t come from tax dollars, Bornemann said. Instead, it’s paid for by royalties from the Department of Energy, including both on- and off-shore drilling activities but also royalties paid by renewable energy projects.
The bill was introduced in the House just last week and getting it to finally come to a vote is something that he, the folks at the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, and many other groups have been waiting a long time to see.
“We’ve all been working extremely close together. It’s been such a delight to work so closely,” Bornemann said. “It’s the first time that I’ve seen the outdoor recreation community come together around a piece of legislation that will help everybody. This is a ‘rising tide’ piece of legislation that will help, you know – campgrounds, it will help marinas, it will help trails, hikers, bikers, snowmobilers.”
With the vote looming, and considering all the time invested by so many, including himself, Bornemann said he’s “trying to curb my enthusiasm, because you never know with Congress” but he does allow that with 60-plus co-sponsors, he’s feeling positive about the outcome.
“There’s been a lot of bipartisan support in the past for these two measures,” he said. “But we’re really optimistic and hopeful that the time is now. It’s Great Outdoors Month – June is Great Outdoors Month; what better time to pass such a vital landmark piece of legislation?”
If you’d like to voice your support for the Great American Outdoors Act, you still have time before the vote. Visit http://www.rvact.org/.