Governor vows to use state funds to keep Zion, other parks open during possible government shutdown

ST. GEORGE — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday he and state legislators are working on a plan to keep the state’s national parks open even through a possible federal government shutdown at the end of the month. 

In a file photo, Zion National Park Superintendent Jeff Bradbaugh, Governor Spencer J. Cox and Zion Forever Project CEO Natalie Britt (L to R) attended a ceremony at Zion National Park, Utah, Aug. 22, 2023 | Photo by Stephanie DeGraw, St. George News

That includes Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks in Southern Utah. 

At the same time, the governor decried as “stupid” that some members of Congress are holding up the budget process and are vowing to shut the government down at the end of the day on Sept. 30.

The governor said the process would be the same as what was enacted during the last major government shutdown in late 2018 when state and local funding kept Zion and other Utah national parks open

During the Thursday taping of the monthly PBS Utah Governor’s Press Conference program in Salt Lake City, Cox said being in St. George this week was a reminder to state legislators of the importance of the national parks to the area. 

“We are all in agreement that it’s worth keeping the parks open and it’s so important to these communities that rely on the parks as their lifeblood,” Cox said. “So we’re going to step up and do that again. We believe we can do that with existing funds without having to call a special session.” 

Cox noted the state has never received a promised payback from the government for the last shutdown. 

“Utah funded that to the tune of about a million dollars over those 35 days,” Cox said. “We never did get reimbursed for it. Congress was supposed to do that and never did. So those are the kind of partners that we’re dealing with.”

The government shutdown from Dec. 22, 2018 to Jan. 25, 2019 was the longest in the nation’s history, according to the Associated Press, and was a stalemate between then-President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress who wanted additional spending for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and Democrats who opposed the funding.  

In a file photo, the entrance stations to Zion National Park are closed due to a federal government shutdown, Zion National Park, Utah, Jan. 14, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

This time around, the stalemate is between Republicans known as the Freedom Caucus who have been stopping a vote to approve defense spending and other budget measures unless demands are met that include spending levels below that already agreed to by Republican and Democrat senators, restarting funding for the border wall, and reducing aid to Ukraine in their war against Russia. 

The caucus consists of only Republican House members, though none are from Utah. Cox, also a Republican, said Congress isn’t doing its job.  

“I just want to be clear about this. This is stupid,” Cox said. “This is the only thing they’re supposed to do. Pass a budget. I’m trying to imagine what our state would be like if we acted like this. We get 45 days to pass a budget, and we do it every year.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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