Washington • The National Park Service says it doesn’t have the authority to reimburse Utah and other states that paid to reopen parks during the government shutdown. That will be up to Congress — something Beehive State delegates are pushing.
Interior Department lawyers decided Thursday that the legislation lawmakers passed to end the 16-day closure didn’t include power for a refund.
"The funds were donated and we can only reimburse the states if Congress expressly directs us to do so through legislation," said parks spokesman Mike Litterst. "The continuing resolution does not provide the needed directive."
Several states wired money to the federal government to pay for furloughed workers to return to the parks to open during the shutdown. Utah shelled out $1.7 million to reopen the state’s five national parks and three national monuments for up to 10 days, but there was no guarantee the state would get the money back.
Several lawmakers, including Utah’s Rob Bishop, Jason Chaffetz, Jim Matheson and Chris Stewart, have introduced legislation to force the government to reimburse the states. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is sponsoring a bill in the Senate as well.
"It’s only fair and right," Hatch said, "for the state to be reimbursed for picking up the federal government’s slack."
Some lawmakers point to precedent for such paybacks after the 1995-1996 shutdown.
"There should be no reason it should be any different this time under this administration," Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said Wednesday. "Erroneous claims by the Interior Department they can’t pay and may not be able to reimburse states simply defy history."
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