During last year’s fiscal cliff crisis, several national parks were closed during the peak weeks of Utah’s outdoor recreation season. Millions of dollars in local revenues were lost during shutdown and the weeks following the crisis.
During this time, Governor Gary Herbert negotiated a deal with the Department of the Interior to reopen the national parks located in the state, but business was still lost due to the uncertainty of a deal being struck at the national level to reopen the government.
Representative David Lifferth (Republican – Eagle Mountain) has introduced HB 133 – Contingent Management for Federal Facilities, a bill that would allow the state to keep national parks open during “fiscal emergencies,” (read: government shutdowns). The bill requires the director of Outdoor Recreation Office to create a priority list of national parks to keep open by November 30, 2014 and, following a moment of “eminent crisis,” the director would report to the state again with a new list of parks they believe should be kept open and which should be temporarily shuttered. At the same time, the director is to create a financial statement saying how many parks they state can keep open. The state would then finance the parks on a weekly basis, reporting results every three days.
Funds from the state’s Sovereign Land Management Funds would be used to fund park maintenance during this time, and the bill would temporarily convert federal employees into state employees during the duration of the “fiscal emergency.” The state would then sustain the parks using fees and monies collected by park programs at the same rate as federal government. Although the bill does not have a fiscal note attached to it as of yet, it did cost the state $8.6 million to keep the parks open for 5 days during last year’s 16 day shutdown, and the bill does not outline a plan for the federal government to reimburse the state in the event of a fiscal emergency.
While there hasn’t been any open criticism of the bill, it does appear to be a step forward in Utah’s battle to regain federally owned lands within Utah. This kind of state action could be used to muster up more support for Utah’s “Sage Brush Rebellion,” an already popular movement among southern and central Utahns critical of federal government ownership of land inside Utah. The bill can also be perceived as a way of letting members of Congress off the hook for their votes on a potential shut down, thus further stalling the negotiation process because they have less “skin in the game” in comparison to other members.
However, all things considered, this bill is a step forward in preventing local recreation-related companies from losing out on potential money. Last year’s problems affected businesses before, during, and after the shutdown primarily because of the uncertainty surrounding the situation. Tourists, business owners, and citizens had no real timeline on when the shutdown would be resolved, so many decided to wait it out.
To contact Representative Lifferth, click here or call 801-358-9124.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker