(CNSNews.com) - The defacement of the Lincoln Memorial, splashed with green paint overnight, comes at a difficult time for the National Park Service, which says it is running way short of money for maintenance projects.
In testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday, the director of the National Park Service said at the end of fiscal 2012, the National Park Service faced an $11.5-billion backlog of deferred maintenance projects.
"This amount grows annually at a far greater rate than the Service is able to pay down," Jonathan Jarvis said.
Just to hold the backlog at $11.5 billion would require the NPS to spend nearly $700 million a year on deferred maintenance projects, he said. "To place this figure in perspective, the annual operating budget of the entire National Park Service in Fiscal Year 2012 was $2.2 billion."
The park service says it needs more money, not only to repair or maintain existing facilities and roads (half the maintenance backlog is roads and bridges), but also for visitor education and safety, resource protection and wildlife management.
"Congress charged the National Park Service with protecting these special places in perpetuity, and it is the fundamental responsibility of Congress to provide annual appropriations commensurate with the responsibilities it has given us to manage these special places," Jarvis said in his written statement to the committee.
"We have embraced a number of opportunities to supplement funding through entrance fees, concession-generated franchise fees, and new models of public-private land management. However annual appropriations remain far and away the heart of our operation and are the primary solution for addressing our maintenance backlog."
The National Park Service has endured successive years of reduced appropriations, Jarvis said, noting that in fiscal 2012, it had $444 million available to spend on deferred maintenance projects, far less than the $700 million needed to keep the deferred maintenance backlog from growing.
"Resolving the backlog is the fundamental responsibility of the Federal government,” he said.
The Senate panel convened Thursday's oversight hearing to consider supplemental funding options.
And while the park service is heartily in favor of supplemental funding, Jarvis warned that the potential to raise additional funds “should not be viewed as a way to supplant federal funding.”
“Appropriated dollars should continue to serve as the primary means of addressing the deferred maintenance backlog,” he told the panel.
Centennial seen as fund-raising opportunity
Craig Obey, a senior vice president with the National parks Conservation Association, told the committee that collectively, the U.S. National Park System comprises assets worth nearly $200 billion.
"That figure shows the enormous financial investment that we have made over the years, which we should be protecting," he said in his written statement.
“As the Centennial of the National Park Service and System approaches in 2016, now is the time to reinvest in our national parks, through both traditional and creative new approaches.”
Obey said the upcoming 100th anniversary of the National Park “is an opportunity for Congress to come together to help reverse the declining funding for our national parks.
“In an era when the electorate and Congress are divided on so many issues, we are hopeful that when it comes to our nation's treasures so deeply loved by the American people across the political spectrum Congress can find a way to work together in a bipartisan fashion to support ‘America's best idea.’”
Obey argued that investment in national parks leads to job-creation and an enhanced quality of life.
“The national parks are core contributors to a $646 billion outdoor recreation economy and provide more than $30 billion in direct economic benefit annually, as well as more than a quarter of a million jobs. They are also magnets that attract tourists from the rest of the world.”
Suggestions for supplemental funding include raising park entrance fees; commemorate coins; and establishing public-private partnership matching funds, such as the one undertaken at the Washington Monument, which was seriously damaged two years ago in the earthquake. Congress appropriated $7.5 million for earthquake repairs, an amount matched by a private philanthropist.
Other, more complicated, proposals include:
-- Penny for the Parks, a suggestion to increase the federal gas tax by one cent and use the money on park roads and bridges.
-- Creating an NPS endowment, to be funded by private partners;
-- Establishing a different model for managing park concessions, similar to the way the Defense Department operates its base exchanges.
-- Bonds, revolving loans, issued by states to support NPS-related projects.
"The NPS will continue to pursue new and creative ways to address its funding needs," NPS Director Jarvis concluded.