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House votes to block study of border-crossing fee

FARGO – A bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday would block a proposal to charge a border-crossing fee for Canadians entering the United States – a fee that one Fargo-Moorhead tourism official said would encourage Canadians who shop here to stay home.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said the amendment to the House’s fiscal year 2014 appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security prohibits any funds from being used to establish, collect or impose a border crossing fee, or to study such a toll.

“It sends a pretty strong sentiment … to the secretary of Homeland Security that this is something we don’t approve of,” Cramer said in a phone interview.

In April, Cramer joined 18 other members of Congress in signing a letter asking Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to reject a proposal in the department’s 2014 budget to evaluate a border-crossing fee, which hasn’t had a dollar amount attached to it. The final step of the study would look at how to handle fees for pedestrians and passenger vehicles at land border crossings.

Charley Johnson, president and CEO of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau, said many Canadians travel to North Dakota and Minnesota cities – including Fargo-Moorhead – every weekend, and he sees “no logic in establishing any kind of fee that would encourage them to stay home.”

“The phrase ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’ comes to mind when I think of the government chasing untold amounts of retail spending back across the border in order to collect a few more dollars in fees,” he said via email.

Ambassador Gary Doer, who hails from Winnipeg and was premier of Manitoba for 10 years before becoming Canada’s representative to the U.S. in 2009, thanked Cramer in a May 17 letter for “taking a strong stand in opposition” to the border fee proposal.

Doer wrote that the movement of people and goods across the border “is essential for the close personal and economic relationship between our two countries.”

The Senate still must pass its Homeland Security funding bill, after which the House and Senate must reconcile differences between the bills by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

All four of the senators in North Dakota and Minnesota signed a May 24 letter to Napolitano asking her to abandon “a study that will expend taxpayer dollars on a proposal that would hinder economic development.”

Cramer, who was North Dakota’s tourism director from 1993 to 1997, said in a news release that border-fee opponents would pressure the Obama administration to take the fee “completely off the table.”

Article written by Mike Nowatzki of the Forum News Service

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