President Trump’s budget includes a huge giveaway to hotel owners in our national parks

New analysis of the National Park Service maintenance backlog finds hundreds of millions of dollars that should be paid by concessionaires, not taxpayers

The Canyon Hotel at Yellowstone, Wikimedia Commons. NPS work orders show more than $10 million in deferred maintenance to private concessionaires at Yellowstone.

President Trump’s new budget proposal uses an inflated and misleading “maintenance backlog” figure as an excuse to defund our national parks and the rest of our public lands.

Included in Trump’s budget proposal is a massive 12 percent cut to the Department of the Interior, which oversees America’s national parks and other public lands. In addition to eviscerating the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is widely known as America’s most important parks program, the Trump budget would defund new construction and major maintenance projects in our national parks, while diverting money to the so-called maintenance backlog, which adds up to more than $12 billion on paper.

While maintaining our national parks for future generations is incredibly important, that $12 billion figure is also highly misleading, as a recent investigation from the Center for American Progress showed.

Majestic Yosemite Hotel, Flickr

CAP discovered that the maintenance backlog includes nearly $400 million in deferred maintenance for the private hotels and concessionaires—many of them multi-billion dollar corporations—that run lodges and restaurants in our national parks. At Yosemite alone, the main building of the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly the Ahwahnee Hotel) has $31 million in critical maintenance needs — more than half of the critical backlog at the entire park.

According to concessionaire contracts, those private companies are responsible for that maintenance, not taxpayers. The Park Service includes concessionaire projects in its database, however, because if companies don’t complete the work, taxpayers ultimately pick up the tab.

Building on the raw data from the CAP analysis, the Center for Western Priorities identified and mapped all of the national parks with deferred concession maintenance projects that had not been completed as of 2015:

When you take away private maintenance and non-critical projects, along with roads and parking lots (which are traditionally paid for through separate transportation funding bills) CAP found the high-priority maintenance needs at our national parks add up to $1.3 billion — still a large number, but a manageable one. $1.3 billion is, by comparison, just two percent of the increase in defense spending requested by the President for 2018 alone.

The “skinny budget” is a double giveaway: If President Trump succeeds in diverting more than $100 million away from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, he will clear the way for trophy homes inside our national parks, while sending that money instead to private hotel owners who ought to be paying for their own deferred maintenance projects.