Bill to protect Arizona State Parks revenue advances

[Source: Jessica Testa, Cronkite News Service, 2/3/2012] –A bill that would protect Arizona State Parks revenues from budget sweeps and allow the agency to use the money for operations took its first step Thursday in the state House. The House Agriculture and Water Committee unanimously endorsed HB 2362, which Rep. Karen Fann, R–Prescott, proposed in response to the massive budget cuts to Arizona State Parks.

The Legislature has swept $82 million from the agency since 2008. That money not only funded the operations and maintenance of the state’s park but also funded grants for municipalities to develop and sustain community parks and trails. Since 2010, many state parks have had to temporarily close due to budget constraints before returning to at least limited operations. In some of those cases, communities agreed to provide money and personnel to reopen parks.

In 2009, the Legislature removed Arizona State Parks from its general fund budget altogether and told the agency to start acting like a business, Fann noted. Now, like any other business, the agency should be able to keep its own revenue without the threat of sweeps, she said. “When we start sweeping funds to the extent that they’re having to close down, what have we done?” Fann said in an interview.

Seven of the nine committee members sponsor the bill, including the chairman, Rep. Russ Jones, R–Yuma. The Arizona State Parks Board strongly supports the bill, said Jay Ziemann, the agency’s legislative liaison. Ziemann explained that 84 percent of state parks sit on land that isn’t state-owned and that the Bureau of Land Management owns a majority of that, he said. “BLM has asked that we protect the funds we generate,” he said.

The approval sent the bill to the House floor by way of the Rules Committee.