States want reimbursement for funding national parks during shutdown

October 22, 2013
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Five states this month advanced funding to the federal government to reopen some of their national parks and protect themselves from major losses in tourism revenue during the 16-day shutdown. Now those states are hoping for reimbursement. The short-term spending plan that ended the shutdown does not compensate the states for bankrolling park operations. That leaves their political leaders and congressional delegations to lobby for repayment. Lawmakers from both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation to reimburse the states, but the measures have not moved beyond committee.

 Visitors at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. (Charles Platiau/Reuters).
Visitors at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. (Charles Platiau/Reuters).

Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah) are among the co-sponsors of the House legislation. They joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers, all from states with national parks, that have backed the measure. A companion bill in the Senate, introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), has only three co-sponsors: Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Michael Bennett (D-Colo.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.).

As for the costs, Utah devoted nearly $1.7 million to run eight federal parks for 10 days, Arizona opened the Grand Canyon at a price of $651,000 for seven days, and Colorado, New York and South Dakota spent a combined $884,000 to reopen landmark destinations for various lengths of time. The states will automatically recover a portion of the money because the shutdown ended before their funding was exhausted. Arizona, for example, will receive $186,000, since the partial government closure stopped five days after reopening the Grand Canyon. But the states are still on the hook for most of the reopening costs, and few want to lose the funds altogether while still recovering from the economic downturn.

“We’re still in a precarious financial situation, and we can’t afford to be paying the federal government’s bills permanently,” said Andrew Wilder, a spokesman for Arizona Gov. Janice Brewer. “Everything we take in is accounted for, so we don’t have pots of dollars lying around that aren’t needed somewhere.” During the past two years, the Grand Canyon attracted an average of about 1.2 million people per day in the month of October, bringing in significant tourism revenue to the state, its businesses and the parks, according to Wilder.

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Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Josh Hicks | October 21, 2013