SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker says if the federal government can afford to spend $1.6 million studying the effects of excess alcohol on prostitutes in China, it can pay the state the nearly $1 million due for keeping national parks open during the 2013 government shutdown.
"Perhaps we all remember where we were on Oct. 1, 2013, when without notice, consultation or communication with the state of Utah, our national parks and monuments were shut down," Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, told members of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Committee on Friday.
"Immediately, that had a $17 million adverse impact to our communities who rely so heavily on tourist income and revenue from the beautiful places in our state that we invite the world to come and see."
Ivory is the sponsor of HCR11, which urges payment of the outstanding balance of $999,400 the federal government owes Utah for keeping places like Zion National Park and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area open for 16 days. The park closures across the country came in the wake of a federal shutdown that occurred when Congress could not come to a resolution on the budget.
Utah's leaders in rural counties dependent on tourism revenue convened emergency meetings when the closure happened to find ways to "literally keep our communities from dying," Ivory said.
In the time since, the federal government has paid Utah $666,000 to reimburse it for the $1.6 million appropriated in an emergency legislative session to keep certain parks, monuments and recreation areas open.
The rest remains unpaid, Ivory said.
In his presentation to the committee, Ivory launched into what he said was a David Letterman-style Top 10 list of how the federal government has spent some of its money, but not repaid Utah.
Among those expenditures, Ivory said, are:
- The prostitution study in China
- $3 million for a California university to play the video game "World of Warcraft"
- $10 million to bring a Pakistani version of "Sesame Street" to Pakistan
- $120 million in retirement and disability benefits to federal employees who have already died
"And No. 1, one of my other personal favorites, is $765,000 for pancakes, to open an International House of Pancakes in underserved communities," Ivory said. "You might ask where that underserved community is. That would be Washington, D.C. That's $765,000 for pancakes and not pay Utah back the million dollars (spent) to keep our parks open to keep our communities from dying on the vine."
The resolution passed unanimously.