State lawmakers work to open Utah’s parks

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The sights that attract tens of thousands every day in Utah have become hard to watch, as the state’s five national parks remain closed to tourism revenue.

“Through no fault of their own, through no choice of their own, someone else, the federal government in this case, has said we’re going to put you out of business until we get this resolved,” said Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain.

The impact of the government shutdown on local economies has forced nine counties to declare a state of local emergency and prompted Lifferth to try to prevent this from ever happening again.

“Right now, we’ve kind of got us on the fast track to find a way to mitigate the damage that’s been done to the state of Utah by the government shutdown,” Lifferth said.

The state lawmaker has teamed up with other legislators to draft a proposal that would allow the state to control its national parks in the event the federal government can no longer do so in the future.

“One of the proposals we’re talking about is to take the existing federal national parks employees that are not getting a paycheck, hire them as temporary state workers and then pay them from the receipts that we’re getting from the people entering the national parks,” Lifferth.

The plan may be the fastest way to get Utah’s parks back open, Lifferth said, as there’s no sign of compromise yet in Washington.

Gov. Gary Herbert sent a letter to President Barack Obama requesting the authority to reopen the parks with state and private dollars, but similar requests from other states have been denied.

“What we're saying today is we have local communities that are hurting, we have local businesses that are suffering open the roads,” said Ally Isom, the governor’s deputy chief of staff. “Allow people to come in, and allow those vendors to regain their business.

Sen. Mike Lee, who rejected funding the Affordable Care Act, explained the shutdown highlights the issue of government control over Utah’s public lands.

“In my state, the state of Utah, the federal government owns roughly 70 percent of the land, and while some may praise the benefits of public land, it’s clear that the federal government can and will use its immense power as a political tool,” Lee said.

However, Lifferth and other state officials countered the issue of public lands is separate from their focus, which is not on trying to gain control of the national parks, but merely keeping them open, no matter what.

“There have been 17 or 18 government shutdowns over the past 20 or 30 years, but none of them have ever affected our national parks in this way,” Lifferth said.

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