HELENA — A Republican state legislative leader has urged Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to reconsider his opposition to having the state pick up the costs of reopening national parks in Montana until the federal government shutdown ends.
In a letter to Bullock late Friday, Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich of Bozeman said that federal agencies, “citing questionable legal authority,” have locked the public out of federal facilities in Montana. These include Yellowstone National Park and its West Yellowstone gateway, which is in his district.
“They have also barricaded and fenced out the public at Wildlife Management Areas and boat ramps accessing the Bighorn River,” Wittich said. “This is not federal government land. It is public land. Notably these lockouts also affect state wildlife and water resources.”
In prior federal government impasses, Wittich said federal employees have received full back pay. Congress recently passed legislation to reimburse federal employees again and to pay states back for their costs in unlocking public resources.
Wittich urged Bullock to contact the U.S. Interior secretary to coordinate how state personnel and resources can go “to unlock these lands so that the public can once again use their facilities.”
“The state has a budget surplus, and you have discretionary funds, for just such an occasion,” Wittich wrote. “Montana should lead the way at finding solutions. If you do not exercise leadership, some resourceful Montana citizen may remove the locks and barricades themselves.”
On Thursday, the Obama administration, in response to some governors’ requests, said national parks could be reopened — if states pick up the tab until the shutdown ends.
Bullock made it clear Thursday he had no interest in doing that.
“Of course not,” Bullock said then. “When I say that it’s long past time to open up the government and end this reckless and job-killing shutdown, I mean the entire government — benefits for the families of service members killed in combat, ‘open’ signs at Social Security offices and resumed use of our national parks.”
Also on Friday, U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., formally introduced a bill to ensure that states are reimbursed within 90 days for all state funds spent for national park operations.
“While I’m pleased that the Obama administration has finally relented and allowed individual states to get our national parks open again," Daines said, "It’s unacceptable that a state like Montana could be forced to bear even more of a financial burden because of Washington’s failures.”