Government shutdown closes IRS offices, national parks in Texas

Posted Tuesday, Oct. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Visits to the George W. Bush Presidential Library will temporarily stop.

So will visits to national parks.

And, while any taxes owed are still due, no one will be at the other end of the phone for people calling the Internal Revenue Service to ask questions.

These are just a handful of the ways a government shutdown could affect North Texans.

Political observers say a short shutdown likely wouldn’t have a dramatic effect on citizens nationwide. But a lengthy one could end up hurting all sides.

“While partisans on both sides enjoy a good fight, most citizens don’t,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. “You don’t want to infuriate the non-politicos in our country — the people who go to work and do their jobs and vote on Election Day but don’t become involved in partisan politics.”

Bush’s presidential library in Dallas — which opened earlier this year amid great fanfare — is closed, as are other National Archives and Records Administration facilities.

That means George H.W. Bush’s library in College Station and Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidential library in Austin are closed.

“We will not be able to sell tickets, update this website, post to Facebook or tweet during this closure,” according to a message on the George W. Bush Presidential Library website.

At the same time, national parks throughout Texas and the country — including the Big Bend National Park and the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park — will close. Campers have two days to leave the parks. Some visitor centers at national parks are closed as well.

Texans and citizens throughout the country are still on the hook for any taxes that are due, but IRS audits are temporarily suspended. And other taxpayer services, such as toll-free help lines, will be closed during the shutdown as well.

Staffing offices

Among the services not expected to be affected: air travel, food safety, mail delivery, the bulk of Social Security and Medicare payouts and work at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Fort Worth.

Federal courts won’t immediately be affected unless the shutdown lasts about 10 days or so.

“If there is still no appropriation after 10 days, then the Judiciary will operate under terms of the Anti-Deficiency Act,” said Jason D. Hawkins, the attorney who runs the North Texas Public Defenders Office, which covers a 96,000-square-mile region stretching from Fort Worth to the Panhandle.

That means “essential work” such as the resolution of criminal cases could continue. After 10 days, employees would still have to work but they wouldn’t be paid until Congress approved a retroactive payment of salaries.

Officials do believe there will be much confusion.

“Our office may be the only possible point of contact in the federal government for constituents who need federal assistance,” according to a statement from the office of U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville. “This assistance is even more imperative as we are upon the first day of Affordable Care Act enrollment, October 1.

“Therefore, our office will remain staffed to help constituents. Our constituents may call our D.C. office or Lewisville office with any questions they may have.”

Road work

On area roads, construction that is already under way won’t be affected, officials at the North Central Texas Council of Governments said. Day-to-day transit services are typically paid out of local tax dollars and also won’t be interrupted.

But projects in the planning stages — planning for transit projects such as the proposed TEX Rail commuter line from Fort Worth to Grapevine and DFW Airport, for example — could be seriously disrupted, especially if the standoff continues more than a few days, they said.

About 91 percent of Federal Transit Administration employees could be furloughed by a government shutdown, said Michael Morris, council of governments transportation planner.

In North Texas, that means contractors working on the behind-the-scenes planning for a transit project may not get paid on time, he said.

“Our agency has a fund for events like this. [But] it wouldn’t take long for us to spend $3 million from our rainy day fund on transit projects, and it sits there and we’re not being reimbursed,” Morris said.

Morris added that the prospect of a shutdown “is not a problem if it lasts a week. It becomes a problem if it lasts longer than that.”

Staff writers Mitch Mitchell and Gordon Dickson contributed to this report.

Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley

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