SALT LAKE CITY -- Gov. Gary Herbert said the state has put contingency plans in place to deal with a government shutdown, including the infusion of $2.5 million in emergency funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep the Women's Infant and Children (WIC) program operational for at least a few more weeks.
In a morning news conference on Thursday, Herbert expressed frustration about the impasse in Congress and it having the impact it does on the state's economy and on the lives of so many people.
He estimated the state could lose as $1 billion in tourism revenue from the shutdown of federal parks in Southern Utah.
"We in Utah are doing everything we can to mitigate it," Herbert said of the shutdown.
Herbert said the state now has funding to keep the WIC program, which targets low-income women and children, operational for up to three more weeks. The program was shut down on Monday, when federal funds were no longer accessible to keep the program open at the state level.
Herbert called on private groups to also step forward and help people during the shutdown.
He estimated Utah has approximately 40,000 federal workers, of which as many as 10,000 could be furloughed.
He described some of the steps taken during the shutdown as silly -- particularly blocking off access to public monuments and parks. He noted that lookout spots near Zion's Park on State Road 9 are coned off, denying people access to views of the park.
The Utah County Republican blamed both parties for the impasse, brought about by a divide on the potential implementation of the Affordable Care Act -- aka "Obamacare." He refused to blame Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, for the shutdown, even though Lee has sponsored legislation that would cut off funding for the new health care mandate, but fund other government programs.
"There's lots of politics in play on both sides of the aisle," Herbert said.
He did point a finger at President Barack Obama for attempting to implement a health care mandate, without input from stakeholders like the states and governors.
"Leadership has to come from the top. The lack of leadership in Washington D.C. places the blame at the president's feet," the governor said.
Herbert continued to delay any response to the possibility of expanding Medicaid at the state level. An expansion of the program, as part of the Affordable Care Act, could potentially extend the federal program to as many as 123,000 more Utahns. The expansion could save the state some funding for the federal program, short term. A legislative fiscal analyst estimated the expansion could save the state $6 million in the first year and nearly $16 million in the second year.
The governor said he is looking at all of his options in possibly expanding Medicaid and is trying to methodically weigh each carefully. He estimated expansion of the program could cost the state as much an additional $3.2 billion in state and federal taxes over the next decade.
Herbert also addressed the upcoming debt ceiling at the federal level, saying Congress needs to seriously address the issue and not kick the can down the road. He called for both parties to come to the table willing to compromise.
He also likened the negative reaction to the Affordable Care Act on the same level as public reaction to the Vietnam War during the 1960s.
"It's the most divisive issue to come out of Congress I know of," he said of the new federal mandate.