The National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC) presented its annual Public Service Award to U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican now involved in congressional budget-cutting efforts, and Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota senator and key member of the U.S. Senate’s Democratic Leadership team, during ARVC’s National Issues Conference Tuesday and Wednesday (April 27-28) in Washington D.C.
The 1 1/2-day issues conference principally involves national and state ARVC leaders who deal with a wide variety of state, national and association matters.
The awards, presented by ARVC President & CEO Linda Profaizer and National Public Affairs Committee Chairman and past ARVC chairman Mark Anderson, honored the two legislators for their leadership in the historic passage of the Tourism Promotion Act to fund an international marketing program to bring more international visitors to the U.S.
The 2010 conference focused on two themes, according to David Gorin, a partner in King & Gorin, legislative consultants for ARVC. The first afternoon of the conference was devoted to briefings and discussions about the changing competitive landscape facing the commercial park industry as federal and state parks gear up to improve public recreation and camping facilities in the face of both severe budget pressures and the growing national priority to encourage citizens to get outdoors, become more active, reduce obesity and achieve the health benefits from a more active lifestyle.
Camping fees are likely to increase as these state and national facilities improve facilities to meet guest expectations and take steps to try to replace federal and state dollars that have supported the parks in the past.
Derrick Crandall of the American Recreation Coalition (ARC) and the National Park Hospitality Association described the benefits of a healthier lifestyle in terms of reducing health care costs. He also addressed the new National Park Promotion Council being created to attract more visitors to the national parks across the U.S.
Likewise, Joe Elton, president of the National Association of State Park Directors and Virginia state park director, announced the formation of the State Parks Alliance, a national organization to promote visitation to state parks. Focusing on “A tonic for a healthier body, mind and spirit,” the Alliances’ program is designed to focus on the beauty and benefits available at state parks, Elton said.
Elton’s upbeat presentation was well received by the conference attendees, says Gorin, as he passionately spoke of the need for public-private partnerships benefitting both the public and private parks. For example, he described partnership efforts in Virginia and talked about how Virginia conducts comparability studies to set state park camping rates.
The conference’s second key theme centered around the economy and its impact on recreation, travel and tourism. A briefing by National Federation of Small Business Senior Fellow Dennis Denny and U.S. Travel Association Director of Marketing and Research David Sheatsley brought a mixture of good and bad news.
The good news: The economy’s improving.
The bad news: The recovery from the recent recession will be slow and there are factors in the economy that could derail it altogether. The key word from both speakers was caution. Unemployment is likely to remain high; commercial mortgage failures are coming; credit will continue to be an issue; and residential real estate will continue to hold back any quick economic recovery.
Paula Calimfade, chairman of the Small Business Legislative Council and an attorney specializing in taxes and retirement and estate planning, also delivered a somber message about the likelihood of increasing tax burdens on small and family-owned business.
Referring to the possible return of a 55% estate tax rate, the likely increase in the capital gains tax, expansion of Form 1099 requirements, and possible legislation to tighten up S corporation tax rules, Calimfade urged all small business associations to work together to combat some of these onerous taxes. With the federal government in need of more revenue, all businesses will be targeted and efforts to close the “tax gap” will increase. In addition, user fees will be expanded into almost every aspect of government.
Janet Oakley, Vice President for Public Policy at the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO), described the need for some $550 billion for highway and transportation programs. She painted a somewhat bleak outlook for renewal of the surface transportation programs because of the cost and conflicting opinions on how to pay for it all. An increase in gasoline taxes is a possibility, but other revenue generators are necessary as vehicles become more fuel-efficient, gas prices rise, Americans reduce auto travel and alternative fuels gain more popular.
Bruce Bommarito, executive director of the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), also briefed the attendees on the implementation of the new Tourism Promotion Act and the public private corporation that is being formed to implement the act. The corporation has a five-year life, and it may take a year to get programs up and running. USTA is working hard to try to speed up the process so that the marketing efforts can begin quickly. Progam funding will come from a new $10 fee on visas for visitors entering the U.S. plus private contributions. The private sector needs to match the public funding.
Meanwhile, Paul Herrnson, director of the Center for Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland, was a featured conference speaker. His participation was sponsored jointly by KOA, Leisure Systems Inc. and Best Parks in America as part of an effort to provide attendees with an inside look at the current state of politics and the low level of public approval the public currently holds for the job being done by federal lawmakers. In his remarks, Herrnson touched on the incivility among current members of Congress, the lack of ethics and morality, the divisiveness and polarization between the parties and the possible outcomes in the coming fall elections.
On Wednesday afternoon (April 28), conference attendees visited members of Congress and the Senate to convey to elected officials ARVC’s legislative priorities, which are as follows:
Reauthorization of the Federal Highway Program: ARVC supports a Federal Highway Program that will provide safe and efficient highways, with an expansion of programs beneficial to tourism and recreation with sufficient funding levels. ARVC also supports consideration of the needs of tourism and recreation in the planning and development of the national and state/local highway systems. In addition to gasoline taxes to fund the Highway Trust Fund, ARVC supports the development of additional funding mechanisms for highway improvements provided the funds are dedicated to highway improvements and do not unfairly single out or penalize recreation and leisure travel.
Travel Regional Investment Partnership Act: ARVC supports grant funding for domestic tourism promotion proposed in H.R. 4676. Such grants can provide significant assistance to local tourism development activities leading to increased employment, tax revenues and other economic benefits. The proposed $10 million funding level is considered the minimum necessary to have a measurable impact on domestic tourism.
Form 1099 Expansion: ARVC is concerned about the direct cost and paperwork burden on small business of the new expanded Form 1099 reporting requirements. ARVC calls on the appropriate Congressional committees to hold oversight hearings on the establishment of new IRS regulations to implement the new law.
Section 179 Direct Expensing: Under the recently passed Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act, the section 179 provisions extended the temporary increases of the $250,000 allowance and the $800,000 cap through the end of 2010. In 2011, the amounts revert to pre-2003 levels of $25,000 and $200,000. ARVC supports the extension of the current levels into 2011 and beyond. Extension of this provision is important to smaller businesses facing increasing taxes, costs and responsibilities created by the new health insurance requirements and the current economic climate in the US.
Federal Estate Tax: The estate tax expired at the end of 2009 but is scheduled to be reinstated at the beginning of 2011 with a rate of 55% on estates greater than $1.5 million and a 55% top tax rate. ARVC urges Congress to take action during 2010 to increase the exemption to at least $5 million and index that amount to future increases in inflation.
Federal Unfair Competition: ARVC recognizes the importance of the national parks, forests and other Federal lands in attracting millions of visitors, many of whom are customers of commercial RV parks and campgrounds. As a result, ARVC supports land agency programs that attract visitors but opposes land agency funding to support recreation facilities or services that compete unfairly with commercial businesses in gateway communities. ARVC is continually urging the land agencies in formulating general policies and in planning and construction of new or established campgrounds to weigh their impact on private, commercial RV parks and campgrounds.
National Park Service Tourism Office: ARVC supports adequate funding – to at least $1 million total – for the National Tourism Office of the National Park Service and is working with other tourism organizations to support an adequate budget while urging congressional appropriations committees to provide funding.
Federal Lands Recreation Fees: ARVC reaffirms its support of the recreation fee program for the federal lands as authorized by the 2004 Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) and opposes legislation that would repeal that fee authority for all agencies except the National Park Service. ARVC, however, would support reform of FLREA to make the fee program more efficient and effective and to protect the competitive interests of commercial RV parks and campgrounds and other businesses by assuring that fee revenue is not used to support or expand unfair competition with tourism businesses in gateway communities.