One of the most prominent headlines this week on the longest government shutdown in U.S. history was about President Trump buying Big Macs for the college football national championship team. When federal dysfunction becomes a meme, it is easy to forget the suffering it engenders.
The reality is tens of thousands of federal employees are still struggling to make rent, car payments and grocery bills.
The impact on states is equally concerning, and Utah isn’t free from the repercussions.
The latest report from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget details the economic toll absorbed by the state in the four weeks of government shutdown. The national parks system has so far seen the worst of it. The state has spent $66,000 to keep its parks running, a number that is quickly approaching the $80,000 allotted.
Fortunately, federal assistance efforts like the Women, Infants and Children and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance programs have enough federal dollars to fund the next four weeks. And a mix of foundations and local governments have footed the bill for the remainder of the national parks costs.
But should the shutdown persist, it’s unclear how much the state could operate on its own.
Now state officials are engaged in long-term planning and reportedly could begin drawing from the $820 million Rainy Day Fund if federal operations remain closed past another six weeks or so. They would need to prioritize expenditures, which could fuel hard debates and certainly place some deserving people at the back of the line. "We are not in position to keep all programs open indefinitely,” said Kristen Cox, executive director of the Office of Management and Budget.
One could argue coughing up another $80,000 for national parks or other federal programs is a negligible amount compared to what’s in Utah’s storehouse. After all, that’s what an emergency fund is for. But it actually is cause for concern.
First, it means state taxpayer dollars are spent on activities that those revenues were never intended to fund. That could prolong state projects or otherwise slow down progress toward worthy goals. Indeed, reports are emerging that show the shutdown is a drag on economic growth.
Second, state lawmakers could see the crisis and determine to sock away a larger chunk of the state’s $1.3 billion surplus than originally planned. While prudence and caution are admirable, the governor’s budget proposal also includes worthy investments in education and clean air initiatives, as well as a healthy restructuring of the sales tax. It would be disappointing to endanger those pursuits because of political stalemate in Washington.17 comments on this story
That brings into clarity the unfortunate reality of bad governance. Lawmakers in the nation’s capital aren’t just having a spat over border security; they are in real ways depressing the economic outlook and hurting states’ abilities to function at peak performance.
Yesterday we detailed a plan for ending the shutdown that would leave congressional Republicans, Democrats and the president the better for it. Now is the time for all parties to act quickly and give the country the relief it needs.