[Source: Arizona Republic Editorial] – The struggling state park system isn’t suddenly and magically awash in cash. But there’s a pernicious misconception that it is because the Arizona State Parks Board approved more than $40 million in grants for two cities to buy state trust land. This is not park money.
The board happens to be, under the terms of a voter-approved referendum, the gatekeeper for funding to preserve trust land. The parks don’t get one penny.
It’s a lot like the state treasurer. The office manages billions of dollars a year. But that doesn’t turn Treasurer Doug Ducey and his staff into billionaires.
This kind of misunderstanding – whether willful or careless – may be one reason legislators have so blithely undermined Arizona State Parks. They cut off all state support in 2009. Since then, they’ve reached right into the till, diverting money that the parks themselves earn through entrance fees and concessions. This is not only wrong but also profoundly disingenuous from legislators who want agencies to act more like businesses.
As Arizona heads into yet another challenging year for the state budget, we can’t make smart decisions without looking at the numbers in context. All dollars aren’t the same. Some funding has legal constraints. Some spending has broader benefits beyond the immediate budget line.
Take that $40 million. It’s from the Growing Smarter fund, which voters approved in 1998. The ballot measure required the state to put aside $220 million, over the course of 11 years, to be used as matching money to preserve state trust land. (Trust land cannot be set aside for conservation outright but must be bought or leased.) Scottsdale just got approval for a $36.2 million grant to help expand its mountain preserve.Phoenixis getting $4.18 million to put toward buying land for the Sonoran Preserve.
Given the well-established value of open space – from tourist appeal to recreation to wildlife habitat – those are farsighted moves that will benefit all Arizonans in the long run.
It gets better. The dollars actually do double duty, helping Arizona schools, as well. Money from the sale of trust land is put into a permanent fund, with the interest going to education and a few other public purposes. Because of the matching requirements, the Growing Smarter grants will end up putting more than $80 million into the permanent fund. The story is far more complex than a single figure on a balance sheet.