Or a political scam?

I'm delighted President Bush has acknowledged that maintaining America's national parks requires an investment of $3 billion over the next ten years, the run-up to the 2016 centennial of the park system. Just as I was delighted last year when he created the largest protected marine reserve in the world.

Clearly, someone has reminded the prez that Republicans in the past, starting with Teddy Roosevelt, have championed some of the most important environmental initiatives the nation has seen. Maybe he just getting tired of being upstaged on such matters by other Republicans, like Arnold.

But if rescuing the nation's parks is so important, is it appropriate then to shift $1 billion of the financial burden to private philanthropy? The prez proposes to match $1 billion in private gifts to the park system with federal funds. So, no private gifts, no federal funds.

Arguably, it's “our” money either way … it can simply come out of our tax pocket or our charity giving pocket (in which case at least it's presumably tax deductible).

Of course the prez doesn't propose to fund other critical federal government missions that way … like the Iraq war or the war on terrorism. I tend toward the view that if the mission is a priority for the nation, then tax dollars should pay for it.

I hope the Dems in Congress will call the question by beginning to appropriate the full amount the Bush Administration has concluded is necessary — $3 billion over ten years — and sending the prez a bill to sign.

President Bush should not be allowed to claim the conservationist mantle of Teddy Roosevelt by laying the tab on private donors. Bill Gates has too much on his plate already.

Many of you probably agree and moreover, might point out that it's not just with respect to conservation that this Administration has passed the financing buck.

Indeed, isn't this choice at the philosophical core of politics? Should vital public goals — whether conservation, national security, health care, education, alleviating poverty — be financed through government taxes & spending? Or through the beneficence of citizens making private choices?

If you say “taxes,” you're a Democrat. If you say “private beneficence,” you're a Republican. If you say “it depends,” you're an independent.

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