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Border-entry fee proposal is universally bashed

WASHINGTON – An Obama administration proposal to study instituting a land border entry fee has prompted outrage all along the U.S-Canadian border – and a vow from federal lawmakers to kill the notion before it goes any further.

With organizations ranging from Visit Buffalo Niagara, the Buffalo Bills and the Canadian Snowbird Association opposing the border fee, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, has pulled together a bipartisan coalition to fight it.

And Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., on Thursday pronounced the border fee dead on arrival in the Senate.

Details about the proposed fee, which the administration mentioned in its 2014 budget proposal, remain scarce. The Department of Homeland Security has stressed that the Obama administration is just proposing a study of such a fee, which would determine if it’s a good idea and what the fee might be.

But Schumer said the fee would be charged as passenger vehicles and pedestrians enter the U.S. from Canada and Mexico.

Not surprisingly, then, Schumer has heard from the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster opposing the idea. And the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Border Land Port Operators and Gary Tomsic, the city manager in Blaine, Wash., have reached out to Higgins.

Everyone who has complained has made the same point: Charging a fee to cross the border will persuade Canadians to stay away.

“Anything that further inhibits the free flow of fans across the border would be detrimental to our attendance, our sellouts, our revenues and the taxes paid from all of that activity,” said Russ Brandon, president of the Buffalo Bills.

Peter Burakowski, communications manager of Visit Buffalo Niagara, said the proposal flies in the face of the tourism agency’s attempts to get Canadians to visit the region to shop and enjoy its many attractions.

Noting that Canadians already make 3.1 million shopping trips a year into the region, Burakowski said: “We want to break down barriers as opposed to setting up new ones.”

Then again, there won’t be any new border fee if Higgins and Schumer get their way.

Higgins on Thursday wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to complain about the idea. Some 17 of his colleagues, from eight border states, signed the letter, and four of the signees were Republicans, including Rep. Chris Collins of Clarence.

Meanwhile, Higgins took to the floor of the House to rail against the proposal.

“We should be encouraging increased economic activity between the United States and Canada, not stifling it,” Higgins said. “This proposal is completely unacceptable and must be withdrawn immediately.”

Schumer wrote a letter protesting the idea to Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the new director of the Office of Management and Budget, and devoted his weekly conference call with reporters to the border fee proposal.

“I am sending a loud and clear message that any border fee is a nonstarter in the Senate,” Schumer said.

That’s good news to Jay Dellavecchia, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Buffalo Hotel and Conference Center, who has also expressed his concerns to Schumer.

“This would be a terrible injustice to the Canadian population and harm our already great and growing relationship with our friends across the border,” Dellavecchia said.