Deal to open parks is good news, but real work remains
So this is what passes for progress. U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has accepted Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's offer to provide funding to keep Utah's national parks open through the federal shutdown. It's still no way to run a nation, but getting the parks open is a worthwhile goal.
State and federal officials were working to finalize the deal, but it appears the parks will open as soon as Friday. More negotiations are under way with other states whose governors made similar offers to loan the federal government the money to reopen parks.
It costs $60,000 per day for the National Park Service to operate Utah's five national parks. And if this episode proves anything, it's that the parks are a bargain. They clearly are a cornerstone of Utah's tourism industry, which brings in more than $20 million per day. For gateway towns like Springdale and Moab, it literally keeps people from losing their jobs and businesses.
The deal also averts a showdown between the feds and southern Utah political leaders, who were itching to use the parks closure to stage a mini-Sagebrush Rebellion by storming the gates. Their frustration is understandable, but their act of defiance lacked any practical solution for how strapped counties would operate the parks in the feds' absence.
Keep in mind that Utah apparently can't even afford its own state parks, which have faced budget cuts and layoffs in recent years. But Rep. Rob Bishop is confident that once the crisis is solved, the feds will be paying the states back.
At a meeting Thursday afternoon, Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart was wary of that promise, and even went so far as to wonder if the federal government may be a poor credit risk. If the federal government can't pay its creditors, getting park loans paid will be the least of Utah's worries, and Speaker Lockhart knows it.
That is another indication that this whole saga is about posturing. The better solution is to get the Republicans in the House to show some statesmanship and tackle the nation's problems with honesty.
And let there be no false equivalency. Whatever the failings of both parties and there are plenty this crisis squarely belongs to the Republicans, who can't even get together on what they're fighting for. Their lines in the sand keep shifting, and it reinforces the perception that their only real game is obstruction. With each step Republicans take toward the tea party and away from the chambers of commerce, they erode their claim to be the party of productivity.
Let's cheer the unlocking of Utah's crown jewels, and then let's see if the U.S. House of Representatives can unlock the rest of the country.
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