Responding to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) about the critical funding needs of America's national parks, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) today called on Congress to pass the National Park Centennial Act, which would provide new funding for national parks in part from a voluntary check-off on our federal income tax returns.

"Despite their strong popularity with the American people, the national parks remain in dire straits," said NPCA President Tom Kiernan. "This innovative idea to create a tax check-off can help to address the parks' critical maintenance and preservation needs, and protect our parks for future generations."

The bipartisan National Park Centennial Act (H.R. 1124 and S. 886) seeks to increase funding for the maintenance needs of the parks and fund natural and cultural preservation projects through 2016, the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. The legislation provides new funding for the parks from the general treasury and from an innovative, voluntary check-off on federal income tax returns, and is designed to enable Congress to more effectively address the critical funding needs of the national parks.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) and Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) in the U.S. House of Representatives has 64 co-sponsors; six co-sponsors in the U.S. Senate include Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH).

"As we approach April 17th, we're reminded how a voluntary income tax check-off-such as the one proposed in the National Park Centennial Act-could help eliminate the maintenance backlog and the operations shortfall in our National Park System. By eliminating these burdens on our parks, well be preserving this legacy for the enjoyment of future generations," said Congressman Souder.

"Each year, millions of Americans and tourists from around the world enjoy the beauty of our national parks. It is our duty to preserve these natural treasures for future generations," said Congressman Baird. "Unfortunately, our National Park System is greatly underfunded and has a tremendous backlog of maintenance and restoration projects. The National Park Centennial Act of 2005 is a bipartisan bill that would protect our national parks and restore them to their full splendor."

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee outlined the critical funding challenges facing the national parks. GAO researchers visited 12 parks when writing the report, "Major Operations Funding Trends and How Selected Park Units Responded to Those Trends for Fiscal Years 2001 through 2005," and found that funding had not kept pace with need, requiring park managers to reduce services including, "reducing visitor center hours, educational programs, basic custodial duties, and law enforcement operations, such as back-country patrolling."

"The GAO report confirms that America's national parks are losing ground, and straining to survive with shrinking budgets," Kiernan said.

According to NPCA's report, Faded Glory: Top 10 Reasons to Reinvest in America's National Park Heritage, the annual operating budget of the national parks is short more than $600 million annually, limiting the ability of the Park Service to repair shoddy roads and trails, conduct wildlife research and monitoring, restore crumbling historic buildings, and provide sufficient educational programs for school groups and park visitors.

A March 2005 Congressional Research Service report estimated that the size of the backlog of maintenance projects in the national parks is between $4.5 billion and $9.7 billion, with a mid-range figure of $7.11 billion.

The president's proposed budget for fiscal year 2007 however, would cut overall funding for the National Park Service by $100 million.

In a 2005 poll conducted by Zogby International, 61% of likely voters expressed the likelihood to donate to the national parks if given the option to do so on their federal tax returns. The Zogby poll also revealed that 1 in 4 likely voters would be likely to donate $20 or more if given the option on their federal tax return.