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Utah Braces For Federal Shutdown Just In Case

Chris Mabey
NPCA Photos via Flickr Creative Commons
The gate to Bryce Canyon National Park was closed during the 2013 shutdown. Utahns hope the scene won't be repeated this year.

Utah agencies are dusting off contingency plans as a precaution in case Congress fails to pass a government-funding bill before midnight Wednesday.

The tourist season was at its height during the last federal-government shutdown two years ago. State leaders pledged $1.2 million dollars to open and operate five national parks, but gateway communities still lost millions of dollars because the ordeal made so many tourists cancel their trips.

Vicki Varela, who oversees Utah’s travel office, is optimistic a shutdown will be avoided this time.

“That’s very important to us in tourism, because tourism is such a huge part of the Utah economy,” she says. “We’ve been contingency planning for any possible scenario and, of course, this is the best possible scenario for us.”

Utahns in the military and those 250,000 Utahns who rely on food stamps are those who are also hopeful.

Jon Cox is communications director for Governor Gary Herbert, who’s making the state’s wishes known in Washington.

“Those discussions are occurring with our own congressional delegation but also with other agency directors, agency leads, to make sure that those situations are taken care of,” says Cox.

He says visitors are already calling about possible park closures.

Cox says Americans expect their leaders to find better ways than a shutdown threat to solve their political differences.

“Governing by crisis is not a good way to govern,” he says. “We don’t do that in Utah. We’re conservative, but in the state of Utah the governor and others are constructive conservatives.”

Like Congress, the Herbert administration is trying to defund Planned Parenthood over abortions, but Cox says that policy fight is not interfering with the efficient operation of government.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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