Today, on a press conference call, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that any plan to impose border fees on Canadians who enter the U.S. by foot, car and even train would be dead on arrival in the Senate. The President's FY14 Budget was released last week and includes a proposal to study establishing and collecting a land border crossing fee at both the Northern and Southern border. While the exact cost of this travel fee is not yet determined, Schumer is vehemently opposed and said that any fee - which would have to pass both Houses of Congress to become law - would be a non-starter in the Senate. Schumer highlighted that this would impact all Upstate economies near the Canadian border, like Plattsburgh, Buffalo, Watertown, Massena, the Adirondacks and Niagara Falls, and would also impact cities like Rochester and Albany where there is passenger rail service. Spending by visitors to Upstate New York grew by over 8% in 2011 to $15.4 billion, according to Tourism Economics. Upstate New York economies are dependent in large part on tourism, recreational fishing, shopping, professional sporting and business-related visits from Canada, and Schumer will highlight that the federal government should not deter legitimate travel with this fee.
"If this border fee were to become law, we might as well be putting "Stop' signs at every border crossing and train headed for Upstate New York," said Schumer. "While the President's budget has a lot of great ideas, I will never allow Upstate New York's economy to be sacrificed to raise a buck: these fees are dead on arrival in the Senate. A travel fee would send the wrong message to Canadians looking to visit and spend their money in New York -- "stop' coming here for meetings that could lead to new businesses and jobs in New York, "stop' fishing in New York and buying bait and tackle here, "stop' visiting our cities and staying in our hotels, and definitely "stop' eating in our restaurants. New York and the United States should be welcoming law-abiding Canadian visitors and the billions they spend inside the Empire State, not nickel and diming them with ridiculous fees."
In Section 544 of the President's Fiscal Year 2014 budget, it directs the Commissioner of the United States Customs and Border Protection to conduct a study 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. It says that the study should include (A) the feasibility of collecting from existing operators on the land border such as bridge commissions, toll operators, commercial passenger bus, and commercial passenger rail; (B) requirements to collect at land ports of entry where existing capability is not present; and (C) any legal and regulatory impediments to establishing and collecting a land border crossing fee. If the budget were to pass both the Senate and the House of Representatives, then the direction would require the completion of the study within 9 months of enactment of this Act. Schumer, a Senate Democratic leader, stated that any such budget including a border fee proposal would be dead on arrival in the Senate. What's more, Schumer stated that this is in direct opposition to the joint Beyond the Border plan, released in late 2012, aimed at allowing the United States and Canada to improve security at the border while expediting lawful travel and trade.
Schumer noted that a potential border fee could be a devastating blow to tourism in the North Country, Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Massena and all other regions along the Canadian border. What's more, if these fees were to be imposed on commercial rail passengers the negative impact would be felt in cities like Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Albany and even as far as Poughkeepsie. Overall, the fees can create a perception that trips to the United States are becoming more expensive, resulting in a decrease in tourism. Canadians at all levels would be offended and financially deterred from discretionary travel. Schumer also hopes to avoid a scenario in which the Canadians retaliate against U.S. policy by implementing their own fees, which would keep New Yorkers from visiting their favorite spots in Canada.
Schumer continued, "First and foremost, it is the federal government's job to keep Americans safe and ensure that visitors from Canada are law abiding citizens. However, a several dollar fee is not enough to stop wrong-doers from entering our country, it is only enough to prevent someone from buying a ticket to the Buffalo Bills game, or from taking a trip to our Rochester Finger Lakes wineries, or shopping at Watertown's Salmon Run Mall. I am sending a loud and clear message that any border fee is a non-starter in the Senate."
Schumer highlighted how such a border and travel fee would impede tourism and economic growth in Upstate New York overall, and would have a variety of specific negative impacts in each region:
· In the North Country, this fee would put a serious dent in the fishing industry around Alexandria Bay and in other outlets throughout Northern New York. Schumer said that fishermen who might otherwise step on U.S. soil for a meal or to buy fishing supplies during a trip might think twice if they were forced to pay a fee per person, per trip.
· The Adirondacks attract a great deal of vacationers from Canada and beyond, including those visiting the Adirondack Park, Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and beyond. The New York State Constitution prohibits any industrial development in the Park, so tourism is one of the primary industries. The I-87 Corridor is also dependent on tourism. For example, Plattsburgh's economy hinges on cross-border manufacturing and trade. Lake George and even shopping malls like Crossgates in Albany bank on Canadian visitors.
· In Buffalo, visitors from Canada and across the globe are vital to the region's economy. In Erie County alone, nearly 29,000 jobs can be directly or indirectly linked to the tourism industry. From attractions like the Buffalo Bills and Sabres to local shopping, restaurants and bars every sector of the Buffalo economy is impacted by visitors. Their impact continues to grow: in 2011 traveler spending in the region grew by 8.6%.
· In Niagara County 19.1% of all employment is sustained by tourists. In Niagara County alone, tourism is a $480 million industry and each year over 8 million visitors come to Niagara Falls State Park.
· Canadians and other tourists contribute about $1.2 billion to the Rochester-Finger Lakes region annually. Experts at "Visit Rochester" estimate that in the last year, the Rochester and the Finger Lakes Region (nine county metro) hosted well over 300,000 Canadians who traveled to the region for pleasure, shopping, sporting events and long-term summer housing in the region. This meant an estimated $250 million annual economic impact on the region.
· Scenic wine trails surrounding Canandaigua, Cayuga, Keuka and Seneca Lakes, and in the Southern Tier showcase award-winning vineyards which attract Canadian visitors.
· Shopping tourism: The fee would adversely impact cities like Syracuse, Watertown and Massena that rely on Canadians to pump in much-needed sales tax dollars to tight budgets. For example, Destiny USA Mall in Syracuse relies heavily on Canadian shoppers.
· Festivals, like Utica's Italian Feast of Sts. Cosmas and Damian that attracts over 10,000 Canadians to the city could even be impacted.
According to the Department of Commerce, in 2011 21.3 million Canadians visited the United States for longer than one night. Of these, 12.7 million arrived by car. Finally, Canadians spent about $4.2 billion in the 11 Border States. According to the Department of Commerce, more Canadians visited New York in 2011 than any other state in the country. Collectively, the 3.7 million multi-night visitors spent $1.4 billion dollars in New York, much of which was spent in areas directly across the border in upstate New York. Schumer highlighted that these figures only include spending by individuals who stayed in the U.S. for longer than one night, and the overall number including day trips and business trips is significantly higher.