Yuma Legislator right to seek funding vote opportunity

[Source: YumaSun.com Editorial] – It looks like Arizonans may not get to vote on whether they want to set aside money to support outdoor programs and parks in the state. A legislative measure sponsored by Yuma’s State Rep. Russ Jones to accomplish this goal appears to have been smothered in the State House before it could even get a full debate. The House Appropriations Committee chairman, Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills, said there were more important uses for the money and denied it a hearing.

It is a shame that Jones’ effort to give voters a voice in this decision was dismissed so casually. In our view, Kavanagh feared voters would make a different choice than they did and that is why an end was brought to the measure. Jones’ goal was to let voters decide whether to restore the state’s Heritage Fund that was created by Arizona voters more that 20 years ago. Each year $10 million in Arizona Lottery money was given to the Arizona Game and Fish Department and $10 million to the State Parks Department. The funds were used to support state parks, protect endangered wildlife and promote outdoor activities.

Unfortunately, lawmakers decided they needed the money for other purposes during the economic downturn and eliminated the fund in 2010. This is one reason that communities like Yuma have had to come to the rescue of state parks operations in recent years. Jones was right to try to let voters decide where the priority should rest. It would not be a matter of asking for more taxes for the fund. The money comes from Arizona Lottery revenues.

Supporters hope they can get around the roadblock, but that may not be possible. There is an alternative and that is for supporters to gather signatures to put the measure directly on the ballot rather than going through the Legislature. It is difficult and costly, but it may be the only option.