PHOENIX — The state has gotten back some of the funds it sent to Washington to keep the Grand Canyon open during the federal shutdown.
Gov. Jan Brewer had sent off $651,000 earlier this month, enough to reopen the national park for a week. But Congress reached a deal at the end of the fifth day of state operation of the park.
Now the National Park Service has sent back the $186,000 it no longer needed for the last two days.
The state actually had another $837,000 Brewer was ready to send for another nine days, but gubernatorial press aide Andrew Wilder said federal officials told Arizona to hold on to its cash, at least for the time being.
“They essentially said, look, it appears that the shutdown's going to come to an end tonight. Why don't we hold off,” he said.
As it turns out, those federal sources were correct.
For both the refund of unused cash and the transfer not made, the state's share of that money was put back in the tourism fund, and the Tusayan town government and businesses got back their share.
But that still leaves the question of the $465,000 Arizona did spend to keep the gates open for five days.
Park Service officials say they are powerless to refund those dollars, even though the federal employees whose salaries the state paid for those five days are getting back pay. Instead, it will require the proverbial Act of Congress to replenish the state's coffers.
Brewer already is in pursuit.
In a letter to members of the state's congressional delegation, Brewer acknowledged the importance of having the tourist destination open to Arizona.
“But while we were able to recover some critical revenue during the canyon's reopening to benefit local businesses, communities and the overall state economy, it is not right that Arizona had to pick up the federal government's tab,” Brewer wrote.
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., already has introduced federal legislation to reimburse not just Arizona but other states which also cut deals with the Park Service to reopen facilities.
At this point it does not appear Brewer and the other governors should wait by the mailbox for the funds. Apryl Marie Fogel, Gosar's press aide, said there are no immediate plans to try to push the measure through on its own
“What we are attempting to do is to get that in the upcoming budget, which should be expected around January,” Fogel said.
It remains to be seen whether those budget negotiations process will be any more amicable than the ones that faltered and left the federal government shut down for 21 days this month.
The deal that ended the shutdown funds the government through Jan. 15 and lifts the debt limit through Feb. 7, but absent some consensus ahead of time about a deal, Congress could reach the same stalemate at that point, not only dooming any bid to reimburse states for the days the parks were open but also could result in yet new shutdowns — and new bids by states to finance park operations.
Despite that, Fogel said Gosar remains “pretty confident” he will at least be able to get Arizona back the money it is owed for the five days the state operated the Grand Canyon this month.