Editorial: Arizona’s Budget Solutions Increasingly Dire

[Editor’s Note: While the Arizona Heritage Alliance has serious reservations and questions about privatization of state agencies, we offer the reader what’s being said and written about the topic — and other related topics — from news and editorial pages from across the state.  The source of the following editorial is the Prescott Daily Courier.]

When Arizona lawmakers said “tough decisions” are ahead in dealing with the state budget, they were not kidding. Arizona currently faces an estimated shortfall of nearly $900 million and, with education taking the lion’s share of the budget, cuts likely will be deep and painful.

Enter into the equation two recommendations the 11-member state commission on privatization and efficiency has floated: privatizing at least some state parks and increasing the state’s use of privately operated prisons.

The panel’s members have not projected potential savings – they submitted a preliminary report several months ago and now are preparing a larger report due Dec. 31 – but one of the two “targets” appears to be rather simple, and the other certainly would be contentious.

The first – privatizing some state parks – is the rather simple one. Yavapai County Supervisor Carol Springer is a member of the commission, and it was Yavapai County that was part of a partnership that saved state parks from the budget axe.

The partnership included Yavapai County government, the Arizona State Parks Board, the Town of Jerome, Town of Camp Verde, City of Sedona, Camp Verde Historical Society, Jerome Historical Society, Concerned Citizens of the Verde Valley and the Benefactors of Red Rock State Park. They kept open Fort Verde State Historic Park in Camp Verde and Red Rock State Park in Sedona, and reopened Jerome State Historic Park in Jerome.

Was it a private effort? No. However, these three parks attract more than 150,000 visitors each year and if the state can find more entities, even private ones, to take on the task – more power to them.

The sticky concept of utilizing more private prisons is an unpopular one locally and statewide.

It was in Prescott Valley that an effort failed this past spring to bring a prison to a site just outside of the town’s boundaries. Widespread public opposition and lack of support from a majority of the Prescott Valley Town Council prompted prison officials to abandon the site.

Also, the topic became even more controversial across the West after the July 30 escape of three violent offenders from a private prison near Kingman. Serious lapses were found in both the prison’s security operations and the state’s monitoring, according to the Associated Press. The escapees were recaptured but two of them and an accomplice are accused of committing a double homicide in New Mexico while at large.

Arizona uses private prisons to house about 5,500 of its 40,000 inmates, but expanding the use of private prisons is an uphill battle.

Yes, privatize the parks – as long as the responsible party maintains service. For the prisons, good luck. That will be about as popular as cutting financing for education, which legislators have said is not off the table.  What’s certain is the state is running out of options.

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