A proposal to study charging a border-crossing fee to anyone entering the United States by land from Canada is drawing fire from both sides of the border, including from Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who called the plan “misguided.”
In an effort to raise more money for border protection and inspection, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants Congress to authorize the study of an unspecified fee that could be collected from everyone who enters this country at land crossings.
Collins, who grew up in Aroostook County, which shares borders with both New Brunswick and Quebec, expressed her dismay with the proposal Thursday in a letter to leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee who are reviewing the Homeland Security appropriations bill.
“For many border community residents, crossing the border is a way of life in order to access essential services, travel to their jobs, to shop and dine, to attend church and to visit family and friends,” she wrote.
She pointed out that more than 300,000 people cross the U.S.-Canadian border each day and that many American communities and businesses along the northern boundary rely on Canadian trade and tourism to power their economies.
She requested that appropriations committee members include language in the Homeland Security budget bill “to block this misguided plan.”
The 2014 Homeland Security budget proposal seeks increases in fees charged for customs and immigration services, including the fees that air and sea travelers pay when they enter the country.
But until now, no fees have been imposed on those who enter by car, bus or train. Some land border crossings, such as Detroit and Buffalo, use toll bridges, but the toll money goes to bridge operators, not Homeland Security.
Homeland Security wants to take a step toward changing that, seeking an unspecified sum for “assessing the feasibility and cost relating to establishing and collecting a land border crossing fee for both land border pedestrians and passenger vehicles along the northern and southwest borders of the United States.”
The budget request says the study should consider a fee that could be added to existing tolls in places such as Detroit and Buffalo, or to ticket prices for those arriving by bus or train. But Homeland Security also wants to take a look at collecting fees at “land ports of entry where existing capability is not present.”
Ken Oplinger, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Washington state, said that would be a negative for the Canadian shoppers who support local businesses. Besides the fee itself, the collection of the fee would likely add to border-crossing times.
“It would certainly dampen the desire by the Canadians to come south,” Oplinger said. “What sort of loss to local revenues is that going to cause?”
Oplinger was skeptical that a border fee would be a good way for the feds to recover border costs. Reducing the flow of retail and tourist dollars across the border would have an indirect impact on federal tax revenues as well, he said.
Viet Shelton, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Washington, said the lawmaker takes a dim view of the idea as well.
“We shouldn’t be studying ways to make [crossing the border] more onerous and hard,” Shelton said, noting that the imposition of such a fee is still a long way from reality and Congress may choose not to approve the study.
In Ottawa, Conservative Calgary Member of Parliament Deepak Obhrai promised to fight any new fee that would affect the $1.6 billion in daily cross-border trade with the U.S., according to the Toronto Star.
The Star also reported that Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty slammed the proposal, saying, “It’s exactly the wrong way to go. … what this does is to bureaucratize the border, make it stickier, more costly and thicker.”
At a recent House committee hearing on the Homeland Security budget proposals, U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat who represents Buffalo, told Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that a border fee was a horrible idea. He followed up his remarks with a letter that contains observations that would also apply to Whatcom County:
“Traffic crossing the border is an enormous component of our economy,” Higgins wrote. “This is also the reason why we have low-cost air carriers, thriving shopping malls and stable cultural institutions.”
The Bangor Daily News contributed to this report.
Distributed by MCT Information Services