How a federal government shutdown would affect Utah

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The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (August 2019)

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Congress is locked in negotiations in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, with the hope that a resolution can be reached to maintain funding to government agencies through the beginning of December.

If enough votes aren’t secured – the Democrats are going to need some help to reach the 60 votes necessary to pass the resolution in the Senate – the government will enter into a shutdown when the clock hits 12:01 a.m. on Friday.

The effects of a potential shutdown would certainly be felt in the Beehive State, according to University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics Director Jason Perry.

They were felt the last time the government shutdown from Dec.. 22, 2018 to Jan. 25, 2019, Perry says.

“Utahns know pretty knew from the last shutdown, it had an impact here,” he explains to ABC4.com, mentioning that the Gardner Policy Institute at the university estimated that about 10,000 government workers in Utah were either furloughed or working without pay during the previous shutdown.

Those employees included a large portion of Internal Revenue Service (IRS), about 1,000 in all, living in the Davis and Weber County area, which Perry notes is the highest concentration of federal employees in the Western United States, who were asked to work without pay during the holidays in that 35-day stretch between 2018 and 2019.

Other government agencies that have a major impact on daily life in Utah would also be affected, with perhaps one of the most notable being the National Parks Services (NPS). Any government shutdown would result in closure to the National Parks, of which Utah has the most in the country. The impact could ripple across the communities that rely on the parks for their livelihood.

“When it comes to a national park, for example, all the hotels, the restaurants, the people that work for them, they’re all impacted to some extent, and that also impacts the state of Utah,” Perry illustrates. “There’s an economic impact there as well, and most definitely an impact on the paychecks for those workers and the impacts on their families.”

During the shutdown in 2018-19, state funds were relocated to keep Utah’s National Parks open, due to the concern for an economic disaster in their communities.

ABC4.com reached out to the IRS and was directed to resources provided by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Although a portion from a 130-page outline from the IRS states “While we do not anticipate using the plan, prudent management requires that agencies prepare for this contingency,” a plan is in place just case worse comes to worst and a shutdown is activated.

According to the IRS contingency plan, a percentage of employees would be retained in the event of a lapse in operations. Should a shutdown occur within a non-filing season (which by coincidence begins on Friday, the day this potential shutdown would go into effect and lasts until the end of 2021), 39% of employees would remain at work. During a hypothetical shutdown in filling season, that number would increase to 57.6%.

ABC4 also made contact with a spokesperson from the NPS, who stated the organization is reviewing its contingency plan while adding “Determinations about specific operations and programs have not been made.”

Should the figurative doors to Congress be slammed shut for an undefined period of time, Perry is wary that it’ll become a mudslinging affair of sorts, with voices from both sides casting blame on the other. That, in addition to an already prevalent distrust of government from some, could make things ugly.

“Apart from the other implications of the shutdown, this becomes a serious messaging issue from both sides of the aisle,” Perry supposes. “It’s what happens after a government shutdown. People start asking who’s to blame, and both sides are going to be trying to lay the blame on the other party.”

But as discussions continue in the nation’s capital, Perry is hopeful that government leaders can avoid a shutdown and one that would be the first to occur during a global pandemic.

“Based on my observation, negotiations are happening in earnest in Washington and there seems to be a desire to make sure a government shutdown does not happen.”

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