States may still eventually get reimbursed for the costs they incurred operating national parks during the federal government shutdown nearly two years ago. On Thursday, July 30, 2015, the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources (E&NR) approved the National Park Access Act (S. 145). It would require the National Park Service (NPS) to reimburse states that operated national parks during the October 2013 shutdown for all the costs they incurred while doing so.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) sponsored the measure. He picked up 10 cosponsors. Attempts to pass such legislation failed last year. Flake introduced the bill again this year on Jan. 12. The E&NR Subcommittee on National Parks took testimony on the bill on June 10. Victor Knox; NPS associate director for park planning, facilities & lands; appeared as the only witness. The committee approved the bill by voice vote.
During the shutdown, NPS entered into agreements with the states of Arizona, Colorado, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah to keep open to the public 13 of the parks and other NPS facilities such as the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore. The places in question, such as the Grand Canyon, all contribute considerably to the local economy. States spent about $3.6 million to operate the parks, according to the legislation. NPS reimbursed them for about $1.6 million. When Congress finally appropriated money to NPS, it included the $2 million for lost time, which went into NPS coffers.
The agreements NPS made with the states stipulated that states would not get reimbursed, except for the $1.6 million or so not directly used to operate the parks. NPS did not take a position on the bill but Knox noted in his testimony that if it passes, Congress would have to appropriate money for it; NPS is not authorized to reimburse the states from funds already appropriated.