Criticized Or Applauded, Presidential Travel Is One Great Job Perk

This week, President Obama and family fly to Africa for what has been described as both “frivolous spending” and a trip that brings “a great bang for our buck.” The estimated $60 – $100 million trip comes at a time when Americans face a decidedly different flying experience caused by government furloughs and cutbacks. Approve or not, presidential travel and moving the first family around the world is in no way inexpensive.

Traveling to sub-Sahara Africa from June 26 to July 3, the Obamas will be accompanied by hundreds of Secret Service agents and staff, adding to the cost of transportation and accommodations. Still, this is the leader of the free world and protecting him, his family and staff is not going to be a cheap road trip no matter how they do it. When President Clinton visited Africa the price tag was said to be $42.7 million plus the cost of Secret Service protection.

As the trip to South Africa, Senegal and Tanzania gets underway, a reported 56 vehicles ranging from limousines to trucks full of supplies will be flown in via military cargo planes. When the Obamas are on the ground in Africa, U.S. fighter jets will be ever-present in the airspace directly above them. That’s in addition to the cost of operating the President’s ride, Air Force One, estimated to be slightly less than $200,000 per hour.
“It is no secret that we need to rein in government spending, and the Obama administration has regularly and repeatedly shown a lack of judgment for when and where to make cuts. The American people have had enough of the frivolous and careless spending,” Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) said in a article.

But the cost could have been higher. The Obama’s original plan called for a Tanzania safari, which would have required a team of sharpshooters to protect them from wild animals. But President Obama, the first sitting president to visit Cambodia and Myanmar, is visiting African countries that reportedly need attention.

“Frankly, there will be a great bang for our buck for being in Africa, because when you travel to regions like Africa that don’t get a lot of presidential attention, you can have very long-standing and long-running impact from the visit,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told The Hill, reports

Still, let’s keep these numbers in perspective. The expense of flowers for the White House alone run up a tab estimated to be $252,000 per year. The Presidential limousine is a $300,000 Cadillac that is clad with 5 inches of armor, has its own oxygen supply, a blood bank of the president’s type and can shoot tear gas and smoke grenades.

New Legislation Would Allow Pets On Amtrak Trains

Would train travel be more appealing if you were allowed to bring Fido and Fifi along? That’s precisely what four members of the House of Representatives are proposing in a new bill that would require Amtrak to allow dogs and cats, reports The Hill, a blog that tracks the ongoings on Capitol Hill.

Under the “Pets on Trains Act of 2013,” one car of each passenger train would allow furry friends, who would need to be brought aboard in kennels or crates that conform to standards set by Amtrak. The service could only be used on trips less than 750 miles in length, and a fee would be required. Currently, Amtrak only allows specially trained service animals on trains.

When introducing the bill on Tuesday, the sponsoring Representatives pulled at other Congresspeople’s heartstrings, explaining that pets are part of people’s families. “If I can take [my dog Lily] on a plane, why can’t I travel with her on Amtrak, too?” asked Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), one of the bill’s cosponsors. If things pan out, it won’t be long before dogs and cats will be able to ride the rails alongside their owners.

[via Grist]

Should Seniors Pay More For National Parks?

Besides being able to snag early bird specials and senior discounts at museums, there isn’t exactly a laundry list of tangible perks when it comes to aging. But one benefit – the ability to purchase a lifetime access pass to all U.S. national parks for just $10 – might soon go away.

CNN is reporting Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, questioned whether or not aging Americans could afford upping the economical, one-time fee during a House Oversight hearing on forced cuts at parks, museums and archives. According to the news outlet, the National Park Service is currently facing a $153 million budget gap, and simply doubling the price of a senior pass could potentially gain the agency $10 million per year. It’s only a fraction of the amount of money needed, but it’s a start.

Currently, adults under the age of 62 can purchase a multiple-park pass for $80, but it only lasts a year. At $10 for life, the senior pass gets older people into all 391 national parks, monuments, battlefields, military or historical parks, seashores, recreation areas, rivers and trails. So what do you think? Will hiking up the fee really cause dissension amongst retirees, or could it be a simple, affordable way to get more money flowing into national parks? Weigh in below.

[Photo credit: Jkinsocal / Wikimedia Commons]

Lawmakers Plot To Limit Travel Abroad And At Home

As we make plans for summer travel abroad and at home, concerns turn to the cost of fuel and how it might affect our projected budget. When studying global destination information, we focus on security matters, currency exchange rates and tips from trusted sources. Getting a good handle on all these topics is part of the travel process.

Now, a new concern may affect some travelers. A transportation bill making its way through Congress could allow the federal government to prevent Americans who owe back taxes from leaving the country.

The provision is part of Senate Bill 1813, also called the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, was introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in November and passed by the Senate on March 14. This far-reaching transportation bill allows the federal government to revoke the passports of citizens the IRS claims owe taxes.

Aimed at those who have a seriously delinquent tax debt in excess of $50,000, even if passed, the new law would not affect most people. Still, there are those that fear fundamental rights possessed by Americans to travel, unrestricted, within the USA borders who may be up for review.

“Be aware that once they allow the IRS to block international travel is there one among us who does not believe it will then be extended to travel within the United States?” asks the Beaufort Observer.

Concerned about laws affecting backpackers, runners, bikers and even walkers, Rails to Trails is a nonprofit charged with creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines. They are concerned that the same bill limits continued focus on trails, walking and bicycling opportunities.

“We anticipated some of the terrible provisions; others were simply shocking in scope and shortsightedness,” Rails to Trails (RTC) said in a statement urging us to contact our representatives now, using an online form, and ask that they speak to colleagues on the US House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee.

Given a moment to breathe, on March 29, two days before the previous extension of our nation’s multi-year surface transportation bill expired, congress passed another 90-day extension.

But what the future will bring for international travel by those who owe taxes – or even domestic travel by someone simply looking for a new place to hike – is unknown right now.

On the international travel front, Forbes says, “If he were in charge of travel, the Soup Nazi might say, ‘No Passport for you!'” In real life, travel may seem unrelated to taxes, except perhaps for those annoying airport taxes on international destinations. But a bigger tax and travel connection could keep you at home – permanently.”

Rails to Trails believes in rights to partake in domestic hiking, backpacking, riding and walking. “For a tiny sliver of transportation funds – less than 2 percent – these programs have provided affordable, healthy transportation options, generated jobs and economic development and preserved historic and environmental assets that provide the quality of life that Americans want and deserve,” Kevin Mills, vice president of programming at RTC told Gadling late last year.

[Flickr photo by Moyan Brenn]

Trails under attack, organization needs our help, today

Rails to Trails, the nonprofit charged with creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines is reminding us that Thursday, February 2 is the day congress begins work on a bill that is bad news for trails, walking and bicycling efforts.

“We anticipated some of the terrible provisions; others were simply shocking in scope and shortsightedness,” says Rails to Trails (RTC) in a statement urging us to contact our representatives now, using an online form, and ask that they speak to colleagues on the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee.

“We need those T&I members, in turn, to tell Reps. Petri and Johnson of their support for the amendment. It sounds complicated, but there’s no time to waste-we absolutely need all the support we can rally,” says Rails to Trails.

Rails to Trails say the bill would:

  • Eliminate dedicated funding for the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program-the nation’s largest funding source for trails, walking and bicycling. (Terrible news, but we expected it.)
  • Remove the rail-trail category from TE eligibility.
  • Completely eliminate funding for the Safe Routes to School program.
  • Eliminate funding for bicycle and pedestrian coordinators at state DOTs.

In November, the RTC went to congress as the U.S. Senate began work on the multi-year surface transportation bill. The RTC wanted a focus that provides balanced transportation choices for Americans. Critical to such balance is dedicated investment in active transportation to ensure that walking and bicycling, the most cost-effective, affordable and healthy types of transportation, can continue to grow in communities across the country.

“For a tiny sliver of transportation funds-less than 2 percent– these programs have provided affordable, healthy transportation options, generated jobs and economic development, and preserved historic and environmental assets that provide the quality of life that Americans want and deserve,” said Kevin Mills, vice president of program at RTC.

A non-profit organization, based in Washington D.C., Rails-To-Trails invites us to get involved in a number of ways.

  • A donation will help build, protect and enhance the rail-trail movement.
  • Register to be a member and get periodic e-mail updates and alerts on important legislative issues and RTC-related news. This is an ideal opportunity to become directly involved in RTC’s mission of providing communities with the multi-faceted benefits rail-trails provide.
  • They also put out a monthly newsletter we can sign up for and offer cycling gear, athletic apparel, gifts and more on their website.

Rails-to-Trails knows the value of today’s networking too and invites us to follow them on Twitter (@railstotrails) and Facebook.

Flickr photo by ebis50