Jenny Wilson: Federal shutdown is hurting Utah and Salt Lake County

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Restrooms remain closed, along with the visitor's center at Arches National Park, due to the partial government shutdown. Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019.

As a Salt Lake County resident, Salt Lake County Council member, former congressional staffer, former federal candidate and current candidate for mayor of Salt Lake County, I have deep concerns about the federal government shutdown’s impact within Utah. Donald Trump has launched 2019 with a bang. And not a good one.

Two years into a Trump presidency, we have witnessed unthinkable actions: Constant insults, hyperbole, self-serving manipulation of the executive office and alienation of our international partners. And now, an unnecessary and devastating hold on government services.

As the stalemate over “The Trump Wall” played out just before Christmas, most in our nation hoped for a brief shutdown — that it would minimally impact federal employees and services, our nation, states and cities.

Unfortunately, our hopes have been dashed. This crisis, brought about by politically motivated, sound-bite simplicity as an effort to rally a dwindling base, is having profound impacts.

As a former congressional employee, I am deeply concerned for hardworking federal employees and their families as they go without paychecks. And, as a current local elected official, I can personally attest to the deep effects we are feeling in Salt Lake County and in communities throughout Utah.

Like many states in the nation, Utah has thousands of federal employees. Dedicated men and women who show up to work every day on time and are committed to their jobs. Not only does this reckless showdown impact the personal incomes of these employees, it also restricts them from contributing to our state economy. Even if these workers are eventually reimbursed for lost income, Utah and local economies suffer every day this shutdown grinds on.

Additionally, the state of Utah picked up the tab on the last government shutdown and was never reimbursed. When Sens. Mike Lee and Ted Cruz senselessly forced a shutdown over the Affordable Care Act in 2013, Utah stepped in to keep its national parks up and running, hoping the feds would pick up the $1 million tab. That never happened. Citizens ended up being double-taxed by both the state and federal government when the state paid the bill for essential federal services.

In three weeks of shutdown, Utah’s local governments are already seeing the brunt of tourists cancelling their trips. Who wants to spend their vacation with uncertainty? National stories highlighting overflowing trash cans at Utah’s national parks don’t help. Local governments’ January revenue projections did not account for cancellation of rental car agreements and hotel and restaurant reservations. Without this revenue, cities and counties will be forced to make substantial cuts elsewhere. That means fewer community programs and road maintenance projects and declining human services and parks budgets.

We know that the federally funded Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program, which provides critical food support to low-income mothers and their children is living on borrowed time.

But perhaps one of the most heartbreaking consequences of the ego-driven, senseless and heartless policies of the Trump administration is the negative impact on Utah’s tribes through the loss of funding the Bureau of Indian Affairs. BIA services for the tribes include health care, law enforcement and road maintenance. As a U.S. Senate candidate in 2018, I witnessed on my trips to the Four Corners area of Utah that the safety net in these communities is fragile. The loss of essential services will devastate this area — already one of the state’s most economically distressed regions.

So, my friends who are in the driver’s seat in making federal and state-level decisions, I ask that you show compassion and leadership. Our congressional delegation needs to do their jobs and get the government running as quickly as possible. Congress has power against this president.

Sen. Romney, let’s show that your words mean something. State leaders, please recognize the state’s strong economy has left us with a surplus. I understand stepping in is costly, but we have no choice. Let’s open our national parks, fund our tribes, protect our local governments and essential programs. And while you are at it, please stop the lukewarm defense of this feckless president.

In this Jan. 5, 2015 photo, incoming Salt Lake County Council member, Jenny Wilson speaks at the Salt Lake County Council chamber after being administered the oath of office. (Al Hartmann/The Salt Lake Tribune, via AP)

Jenny Wilson is an at-large member of the Salt Lake County Council is a candidate for mayor of Salt Lake County