Viewpoint: Arizona’s heritage? What heritage?

[Source: Editor, Phoenix Magazine] — State Parks officials announced Monday that they would be cutting the budget for Arizona parks even further, tapping special funds that were earmarked for park maintenance and conservation because the state Legislature has throttled way back on its direct support.  The agency’s 2010 operating budget was officially pared down from $26 million to $19.3 million.  It is contingent upon the Legislature’s renewal of special Heritage Fund grants, which support programs and places that are considered to be among the most Arizona-centric stuff in the state.

But if history is a lesson, that may be a long shot. Lawmakers have been raiding the voter-restricted Heritage Funds to pay off the state’s massive $3 billion-and-counting budget deficit.  This left behind a huge mess, which Phoenix Magazine columnist Jana Bommersbach outlined in her June 2009 column titled “(Un)Clean Sweep.”

State Parks Executive Director Renée Bahl, who left San Diego County parks and took office last month, said in a recent press release that Arizona parks are seeking volunteers (and given these types of cutbacks, we’re talking much more than monthly cleanups next to dry stream beds, folks).  “Now our staff will be looking for all different types of partners to keep the parks open in these rural communities,” Bahl said in a prepared statement.  “In September, our staff will be presenting scenarios for salvaging the State Parks and programs.  We will have to drastically reduce our expenses to meet the extremely low budget presented today.”

It’s a sad statement.  Doubly troubling is that these parks that generate much more revenue for Arizona towns than the money that is actually afforded to them through user fees and direct funding from the state’s general fund.  This recent economic analysis has the details, plus a handy summary.

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