Proposition 301 divert conservation money

[Source: Mary Jo Pitzl, Arizona Republic]

Editor’s note: This story is the ninth in a series explaining the 10 propositions that will appear on the Nov. 2 general-election ballot.

PROPOSITION 301: Land Conservation Fund

This ballot measure seeks voter approval to take the remaining balance in the state Land Conservation Fund and redirect it to the state general fund.

BACKGROUND:

Voters in 1998 approved the Growing Smarter Act, which requires the state to allocate $20 million a year from the general fund into a land-conservation fund to shore up state preservation efforts.

The money is available for 11 years; the final year ends June 30, 2011. There is $122.9 million in the fund, although grant applications from Phoenix, Scottsdale and Coconino County, if awarded, would leave the fund with about $50 million.

The Legislature sent Prop. 301 to the ballot as it looks for money to help balance the state budget, which has been running a deficit. The deficit for the current year is $825 million.

Voter approval is needed to transfer this money because the Land Conservation Fund is protected from legislative interference.

SUPPORTERS:

GOP lawmakers and the Arizona Tax Research Association.

PRO ARGUMENTS:

Proponents argue that the money is needed to help balance the state budget, and that need is greater than land conservation. Without the transfer, the Legislature will have to find $123 million elsewhere, such as through cuts, one-time budget gimmicks or possibly tax hikes.

OPPONENTS:

The Arizona Education Association, Sierra Club, Sonoran Institute, McDowell Sonoran Conservancy and Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection.

CON ARGUMENTS:

Opponents paint Prop. 301 as a raid by the Legislature that ignores the voters’ will to devote money to land conservation. They argue that there are long-term benefits to preserving open space, ranging from increased quality of life to enhancing the value of state trust land.

Sources:
  • State of Arizona publicity pamphlet for the Nov. 2 election
  • Arizona State Land Department
  • Arizona State Parks Department, grant applications,
  • Arizona Legislature,
  • Joint Legislative Budget Committee
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