WASHINGTON – Western lawmakers are pushing legislation to repay several states including Colorado the nearly $3.5 million they forked over to the National Park Service to reopen iconic landmarks during the government shutdown.
The bipartisan bill authored by Republican Rep. Steve Daines of Montana and cosponsored with Colorado Republican Rep. Scott Tipton directs the park service to reimburse states within 90 days for the funding that was intended to keep parks open for ten days.
Although the park service only uses one-fifteenth of one percent of the federal budget, the Obama administration closed and barricaded more than 400 parks nationwide, including privately owned properties during the shutdown.
Government-wide, 350,000 out of millions of federal employees were furloughed, including 80 percent of the park service.
Republicans criticized the decision as a political tactic designed to inflict maximum impact on the public during the shutdown negotiations.
After calling National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis before a House hearing last week to explain his planning procedures and rational for blockading national parks, lawmakers were told the service had no intention of reimbursing the money unless Congress passed a law demanding repayment.
Jarvis said that the governors of the affected states, including John Hickenlooper, knew they would not be repaid when the deal was struck to reopen certain parks.
Mike Litterst, National Park Service spokesman, later told the Washington Post that state taxpayer dollars were considered as a “donation” to the federal government agency.
“That was all very clearly discussed in the negotiations,” Litterst said.
In announcing his bill, Daines said it was unacceptable for states to bear the financial burdens of Washington’s failures.
“My legislation will protect states and ensure they receive full compensation for their work to reopen our national park gates,” Daines said.
Utah kicked in $1.7 million to reopen five parks while Colorado gave the federal government $363,000 to open Rocky Mountain National Park. Arizona paid $651,000 to reopen the Grand Canyon, South Dakota paid $152,000 for Mount Rushmore, and New York opened the Statue of Liberty for $610,000.
“The attitude and actions of the park service during this shutdown have again shown that when it comes to managing lands, states can do a better job,” said Republican Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah.
Added Republican Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico, chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus: “States have stepped forward to offer a solution by reopening the national parks that the federal government chose to shut down.”
“Communities throughout the West are suffering from lost revenue from sharp decreases in tourism. This bill ensures that states who have taken it upon themselves to help out, and reopen our treasured landscapes, are compensated fairly,” Pearce said.
Congress has reauthorized that the National Park Service and employees be reimbursed for the 16 days it was closed.
Refusing the pass the money owed back to the states amounts to double dipping by the park service, said Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn.
“When you get reimbursed, that’s a windfall to you if you don’t reimburse the states,” Lamborn told Jarvis at the hearing.
“I think you should have to be responsible for that,” Lamborn said.
“It was wrong what you did, this decision of yours was not good,” Lamborn said. “It was not good for the American people and it’s not good for the park system either.”