Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker along with Senators Jeff Flake (R-Az.), John McCain (R-Az.) and a bipartisan group of senators, introduced legislation today to reimburse states for funds used to reopen national parks while the federal government was shut down last October.
“The Smokies closing was like a BP oil spill for the Gulf, especially for places like Sevier and Blount counties, where the success of many small businesses relies on our country’s most-visited national park,” Senator Alexander said. “This national treasure shouldn’t have been forced to close in the first place, and Tennessee taxpayers certainly shouldn’t be forced to foot the bill for having it reopened.”
“I feel fortunate to have grown up in East Tennessee with the Smokies in my backyard and know all Tennesseans take great pride in the fact that millions of people visit our state every year to experience our tremendous God-given outdoors,” Senator Corker said. “This bill ensures the state of Tennessee will be made whole after it had to foot the bill to keep the national park open during last fall’s irresponsible government shutdown, and I thank Governor Haslam and Senator Alexander for their leadership on this issue.”
During the shutdown of the federal government this past fall, Senators Alexander and Corker worked with Gov. Haslam, local county mayors and other members of the Tennessee congressional delegation to facilitate the reopening of the park. On Oct. 15, 2013, Senator Alexander introduced his own legislation to reimburse states for all state funds used to reopen national parks while the government was shutdown.
The National Park Access Act would repay six states that used approximately $2 million state dollars to reopen national parks, of which Tennessee paid $60,100 to reopen Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The shutdown ended when Congress enacted the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2014, which included retroactive funding for the National Park Service that covered park operations for days that had already been paid for by states. The National Park Service ended up with approximately $2 million in excess funds for the year because of the days of park operations that states paid for during the shutdown. The Department of the Interior has recognized this excess of funds, but has indicated it needs congressional authorization to return the money to states.
According to the most recent National Park Service economics report, 9,685,829 visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park spent $741 million in communities near the park in 2012, supporting 10,959 jobs in those areas.
The legislation authored by Senator Jeff Flake (R-Az.) is also cosponsored by Senators Bennet (D-Co.), Hatch (R-Ut.), Lee (R-Ut.) and Udall (D–Co.).