A federal budget proposal that could lead to the U.S. imposing a fee on people traveling by land into the country is drawing opposition in North Dakota.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., on Monday signed a letter along with 18 other members of Congress asking Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to reject a proposal in the department's 2014 budget to study charging a fee. The agency is considering a border-crossing fee to offset the costs of providing border protections.
A study "sends a bad signal, plus it's a waste of money," said Cramer, who is co-chairman of the Northern Border Caucus and a member of the Travel and Tourism Caucus in the U.S. House. From 1993 to 1997, he served as North Dakota's tourism director, and estimates the state welcomes more than a million visitors from Canada each year. The state also offers Canadians a refund of state sales taxes they pay on certain items.
"We're trying to attract travelers with our tax policy in North Dakota, and now the federal government is looking at doing just the opposite," Cramer said.
Sherwood hardware store owner Allan Engh said charging potential shoppers from north of the border is a senseless idea.
"Why would you charge guests to come into your country and spend money? It's crazy," he told the Minot Daily News.
Engh estimates that one-third of his business comes from Canadian customers, including many for whom Sherwood, two miles from the border, is their closest town for gas or groceries. They also travel across the border to visit family and attend social gatherings. Charging them a fee would be U.S. arrogance and a "slap in the face," Engh said.
A crossing fee would be devastating to towns all along the border that benefit from Canadian traffic — even a small fee could discourage visitors, Engh said.
Winnipeg, Manitoba, college student Andrew Chan travels to Fargo two or three times a year. A border-crossing fee might cause him to scale back his visits, he told The Forum newspaper.
"If it's just like a weekend shopping trip, it would deter me," he said.
That worries businessmen such as Brad Schlossman, CEO of the company that owns the West Acres mall in Fargo. He called a border-crossing fee "a horrible idea."
"It's not the way the rest of the developed world treats its guests," he told The Forum.