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Opinion column: Shutdown

Posted: Wednesday, Oct 16th, 2013

By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the “partial government shutdown” over the “federal budget impasse.”

I generally avoid national, political news as often as I can. Hearing the children bicker over in Washington is exhausting and enough for me to shun CNN, Fox News and all the rest.

But completely ignoring the government shutdown is impossible.

Yes, myself, much like the majority of our readers, has not been severely affected. We’re still paying taxes. As a matter of fact, that’s how you know the shutdown is truly “partial.” Try searching Google for “U.S. Department of Agriculture,” and then try “IRS.” Which one is still up and running? Do you even need to do a search to add 2 + 2?

Our roads and main infrastructure are still up and running. Schools are still open. The local government agencies are still operating at full capacity.

But, a lot of other options are now unavailable, and a lot of them are pertinent and debilitating to those affected.

Check out the state page. Some needy families are likely to be without their TANF grants in the future. Wyoming Child and Family Development may be without funding for programs. Hundreds upon hundreds of workers have been furloughed and are without pay.

Not only state employees have had to be laid off for the time being, but federal employees within the state don’t have work either. Do these people get new, and potentially temporary, jobs? Wait it out? I don’t know the answer, but I’m glad I’m not in that spot.

I don’t want to get into the politics of the issue. I’ve found that, when talking politics, most people lose the ability to look at a situation objectively. I guarantee you Republicans blame Democrats for the shutdown, and vice versa. It’s a lost cause.

Unfortunately, I think Gov. Matt Mead has likely forgotten to look past the politics of one important issue: the state’s national park system.

The Obama administration recently OK’ed the reopening of tourist areas IF states agreed to foot the bill. In the week or so since that maneuver, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Arizona and New York agreed to open at least some of their national parks.

Mead immediately said his office was not interested in such an offer. My question: Why not?

States had two pivotal questions to consider before making this decision: 1) Would the federal government reimburse the states if and when it reopened?; and 2) What is worth more – the cost to open the parks or the money pumped into local economies?

Let’s look at the Grand Canyon. Officials in Arizona estimate the park creates approximately $1 million per day for the local economy this time of year. The state is paying $93,000 per day to keep it open. Basic math, right?

I’m not confusing fall in Wyoming with fall in Arizona. Do Cody or Jackson make that kind of money off Yellowstone this time of year? Probably not.

But, to me, that makes it more important. Check out page 1. Small-town businesses like those found in Fort Laramie can easily be crippled in Wyoming. Locals depend on the stream of tourists to make a living in this beautiful state.

It’s the job of the state government, with less than 500,000 residents and a LOT of money in its coffers, to take care of these residents. Yet Mead refuses to let the state foot the bill.

Mead, in my opinion, is playing up the state’s “leave us alone, feds,” and “federal government needs to stay out” ideology. He had a quote that said, paraphrasing here, Wyoming can’t fix Washington’s mess.

He’s right, it can’t. But what it can do is pay to keep the parks open and prevent even more people and businesses from losing everything during an already tough situation.

It’s not about Liberal vs. Conservative or Democrat vs. Republican. It’s about people’s – Wyoming people’s – livelihoods in areas that should be open, regardless of whether the idiots in Washington can come to an agreement.

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