A shutdown this morning of Grand Canyon National Park might have been avoided had Arizona Governor Jan Brewer not chosen to dismiss certain options. Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer reports.
This isn't the first time the gates to the Canyon have been closed. One government shutdown in 1995 resulted in then-governor Fife Symington showing up with the National Guard and state employees and offering to have them run the Park. That turned out to be little more than a publicity stunt as he and his staff were turned away. But, Symington - that time without TV cameras in tow - did strike a deal with the Parks Service ahead of a second shutdown that year to have the state front the $17,000-a-day cost of at least keeping part of the park available to visitors.
Those dollars, including nearly $53,000 from developer John F. Long, kept the Park open for the 21-day federal shutdown. And the former governor told Arizona Public Radio that current governor, Jan Brewer, should take a page from that playbook. "It's vital to the economy of northern Arizona," Symington said. "And people come from all over the world. They save money for years to go see the Canyon. It's just a huge disappointment." Symington went on to say, "the state should step up and take care of the issue."
Governor Brewer said she did discuss that question yesterday with her Cabinet before rejecting the idea. She said, "I don't know if the Grand Canyon is a priority for the state of Arizona. We have a lot of other priorities out there like our National Guardsmen, and children, and people that will be hurting desperately if we don't get something done."
Gubernatorial press aide Andrew Wilder acknowledged the impact of the Canyon on the state's economy. But, he said his boss was not interested in following former governor Symington's lead. "This isn't 1995," Wilder said. "We're not in a position to craft a situation like what was done in 1995. John F. Long is not here. A lot of private money went into that at the time."
But there's another thing that's different than 1995. The state ended its most recent fiscal year with a surplus close to $900 million dollars. Wilder said that doesn't matter. "We're not going to start spending money that we don't have, that we're just starting to garner back in the state," he said. "And we can't be spending every dollar that comes in. We need to save up money."
As it turned out, the federal government reimbursed Arizona for everything it spent keeping the park open in 1995. Ellen Bilbrey, the state parks spokeswoman then - and now - said even John F. Long got his money back. But press aide Andrew Wilder said that's irrelevant. He said that - absent of a commitment from Washington for repayment - Governor Brewer is unwilling to commit whatever it would cost in today's dollars to keep the gates to the park open.
For her part, Governor Brewer said that members of Congress from her own Republican Party share in the blame for the stalemate on the budget, with the Affordable Care Act as her key sticking point.