PHOENIX — Saying it’s not a top concern, Gov. Jan Brewer said Monday that she won’t use state resources to keep the Grand Canyon open during a federal government shutdown.
Brewer acknowledged that when Fife Symington was governor he found a way to use private donations and state funds to keep at least part of the park available to visitors during 21 days when there was no federal budget. The idea, Symington said Monday, was to keep this important economic engine running.
But Brewer is not pursuing such a course.
“I don’t know if the Grand Canyon is a priority for the state of Arizona,” the governor said after a closed-door meeting with her Cabinet. “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.”
High-profile areas of concern include the Women, Infants and Children program, unemployment claims and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.
Saguaro National Park in the Tucson area also will close.
Kirby-Lynn Shedlowski said anyone arriving at the Grand Canyon after 6 a.m. today will find the gates locked and will be turned away. And anyone already camping or staying at one of the lodges will be given 48 hours to leave.
Symington said he recognized in 1995 that the cost to the state would be enormous.
“It’s vital to the economy of Northern Arizona,” he said. “People come from all over the world, save money for years to go see the Canyon.”
Symington’s first effort to keep the Canyon open involved leading a contingent of National Guard troops and state park officers to the park, but they were turned away.
But Symington managed to strike a deal with the Park 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 — through Mather Point — available to visitors. That continued for 21 days.
He recommended Brewer follow suit.
Brewer, however, is not interested.
“This isn’t 1995,” said press aide Andrew Wilder. “We are not in a position to craft a situation like was done in 1995.”
One thing that’s different is that in 1995, developer John F. Long ponied up nearly $53,000 of his own money to pay for the first three days. And the state Parks Board set aside more than $317,000 from its own budget.
While the state ended this past fiscal year on June 30 with a surplus of nearly $900 million, Wilder said Brewer is not interested in tapping those dollars.
“We’re not going to start spending money that we are just starting to garner back,” he said.
“We can’t be spending every dollar that comes in,” Wilder continued. “We need to save up money.”
That decision could have financial fallout.
In a report earlier this year, the National Park Service said the Canyon’s 4.3 million visitors a year spent more than $467 million and supported 7,361 jobs in Arizona in 2011, the most recent figures available.
Because of the potential economic fallout, Wilder said, the state will “look at options” to keep the Canyon open, pointing out it is a federal responsibility.
Brewer said members of Congress from her own Republican Party share in the blame for the stalemate on the budget, with the Affordable Care Act as the key sticking point.
“It’s unfortunate that everybody down there, including the president, including Congress, that they can’t come together and come up with a plan that works,” she said.
“In government we work under the theory that you have to compromise”
As it turned out, the federal government ended up reimbursing the state for the money it spent in 1995 to keep the park open. Even Long got his money back.
Wilder, however, said that’s irrelevant. He said that, without a commitment from Washington for repayment, Brewer is unwilling to make the leap to keep the park open.