SALT LAKE CITY - Should the lawmakers in Washington D.C. decide to shut down the government in the future, Utah will be looking to keep its national parks open for business.
On Tuesday, the House Natural Resources Committee approved legislation that would create a contingency plan for the state to follow that would allow the state to pay the federal government to keep the parks open, much like it did last October.
"Our national parks really are our mascots," said Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, the sponsor of the legislation. "When many people think about Utah they think about our canyons, our arches, they think about Zion National Park."
Lifferth recounted to the committee the events that took place last year when Utah shelled out $1.6 million to reopen the federally-owned and operated national parks within the state while Congress forced a partial shutdown of government services nationwide. Lifferth pointed out the shutdown hindered Utah's economy, but since the state was able to pay to reopen the park the economic hit wasn't as hard as it could have been.
"This is critical to Utah's economic viability," he said.
Under the bill, the governor would be called upon to work with the federal government to open and maintain the national parks in the state should Utah have enough money to do so. If the federal government gives the okay, then a prioritization list of which parks should be opened would be created. Lifferth explained that not every nationally-owned area may be reopened, but the state will make sure the ones that are key to the state's economy will be at the top of the list.
"We will prioritize based on foot traffic," he said. "We can't open everything -- that is not reality. But based on needs and demands, we will open the parks that will make the most sense."
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, compared the legislation to a "battered spouse" relationship. He compared Utah to being the beaten spouse that is asking the federal government to let it reopen the parks within its own boundaries. He stated that the need for this bill, H.B. 133, showed that Washington was not working.
Lifferth stated his bill was simply looking to put a memorandum of understanding in state code on what Utah will do to keep its parks open should the federal government attempt to shut them down again because of a fiscal crisis.
A report from the Associated Press on Monday found that Utah's efforts to keep its national parks open in 2012 paid off economically. Once Utah got its parks up and running during the shutdown, it was found that for every $1 the state put into parks, the parks' visitors spent $10. The report also found that the parks enjoyed over 150,000 visitors during the shutdown.
Lifferth's bill will now be debated by the full body of the House.