Border toll would hurt Whatcom County economic prospects

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 4, 2013 

For many Whatcom residents, the northern border represents commerce, trade, tourism, economic activity and jobs. It's clear that the border is a critical factor in maintaining a vibrant local economy, which is why we must prioritize having a secure border that facilitates the efficient movement of employees, visitors and freight across it.

In Whatcom County, southbound border traffic into the United States is just beginning to return to pre-9/11 levels. In fact, the number of people crossing the border into Whatcom County jumped by 10.2 percent in the first quarter of 2013 compared to the same period last year. This is good news for our local economy and Washington state's as a whole. We know that Canadian visitors shop at our local businesses and spend when they travel here. According to the Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis, Canadians spent $23.96 billion while visiting the United States in 2011, up 15 percent from 2010.

Given how important commerce generated from travel across the northern border is, I was shocked to see a proposal in the Department of Homeland Security's Fiscal Year 2014 budget request to study whether fees should be assessed on passengers and pedestrians crossing into the United States at land crossings, such as ours in Whatcom County.

Such a fee would create a new economic barrier to the flow of visitors and commerce, and would have an immediate negative impact on our local economy. I oppose any new border crossing fees.

We are in the middle of a tenuous economic recovery and we shouldn't be proposing policies or studies that would result in stifling economic growth. If anything, we should be studying ways to improve border crossings, to make it easier for tourists and those conducting business to cross. Without a doubt, border fees would harm communities that depend on cross border travel and commerce. This is why last week I, along with a bipartisan group of my colleagues, sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano encouraging her to reconsider this ill-advised proposal.

Improving economic access between the United States and Canada must be a high priority for our federal government. Canada is our largest trading partner and the economic impact of Canadians visiting the U.S. -- and the benefit that Americans receive from traveling to Canada -- is significant.

In 2011, the most recent year for which data was available from the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries at the U.S. Department of Commerce, the total number of Canadian visitors traveling by car into the U.S. who stayed one or more nights in Washington state was 2.2 million. This number does not even account for day trips, which the U.S. Department of Commerce estimates account for about 57 percent of all Canadian visitors to the U.S. in 2011.

If additional border fees are imposed, how much longer will the delays at the border be during peak travel hours? Or worse, how many potential visitors from across the border will simply decide to stay home instead of shopping in Whatcom County? How many U.S. jobs will be lost by this damaging and shortsighted proposal?

Whatcom County's economy, and all border communities across the country for that matter, simply can't afford to learn the answers to these questions. At a time when we are attempting to boost economic activity at our northern border, let's not get sidetracked by policies that would do the reverse.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

U.S. Rep. Suzan Del Bene, D., represents the 1st District that includes parts of Whatcom County.

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