Parks Heritage Fund, clearly a boon to Arizona, should be restored

[Source: William C. Thornton, Special to the Arizona Daily Star, 2/16/2012] – The Arizona Parks Heritage Fund may be the best investment of state lottery dollars you’ve never heard of. Enacted by voters in 1990, the Heritage Fund directed $20 million to be divided equally each year between State Parks and Game and Fish. It’s also worth noting that the $10 million state parks heritage fund money often served as seed money for matching grants. Thus the total yearly impact was typically $20 million or more.

Parks grants have developed new parks, and built and improved trails, campgrounds, picnic facilities, boat docks and ramps. Historical restoration grants have helped preserve important parts of our rich cultural heritage including our own beloved Mission San Xavier del Bac, the White Dove of the Desert.

If you hunt, fish, hike, camp, boat, picnic or share my love of Arizona history, the Parks Heritage Fund has benefited you. Moreover, the Parks Heritage Fund has helped fuel the economic engine that brings dollars and supports jobs.

A 2007 study estimated that 224 jobs were directly supported by Parks Heritage Fund grants. Heritage-funded improvements to parks and historic sites help attract more than 2 million visitors, about half from out of state, who add $266 million to our state’s economy each year and support an additional 3,000 jobs, mostly in rural areas that have been among the most heavily impacted by the economic downturn.

In response to the economic downturn and decline in tax revenue, the Legislature swept the state parks allocation into the general fund in 2010 and, inexplicably, eliminated the fund in July 2011.

Now, thanks to Rep. Russ Jones, a Republican from Yuma, voters may be given the opportunity to restore this fund, which has benefitted every community in our state. If enacted by the Legislature and approved by voters, HCR 2047 will reinstate language and lottery funding for the state parks heritage fund into Arizona law. (Editor’s note: Reps. Steve Farley and Matt Heinz, both Tucson Democrats, are also sponsors, as is Rep. Ted Vogt, a Tucson Republican.)

It passed its first committee hearing unanimously with strong bipartisan support, but many hurdles remain before it can be referred to voters. Reinstatement of the parks funding is not a partisan issue. It isn’t a liberal-conservative issue. It’s common sense and sound business practice, a win-win for outdoor recreation, historical restoration and Arizona taxpayers.

It’s our Heritage. Let voters decide.

Contact your lawmakers. Tell your representatives in the Arizona Legislature your views. Go to www.azhouse.gov or to www.azsenate.gov online. Call the Tucson legislative office at 398-6000 or call Phoenix toll-free at 1-800-352-8404.

William C. Thornton is a member of the board of directors for the Arizona Heritage Alliance. Email him at cactusworld@msn.com


Commentary: 22 years later, Arizonans may have another chance to vote for historic preservation

[Source: Bonnie Bariola, Florence Reminder, 2/9/2012] – In 1990 the people of Arizona voted unanimously to approve an initiative to allocate $20 million from Arizona Lottery Funds to the Heritage Fund, with $10 million going to Arizona State Parks and $10 million going to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission. The initiative was very specific as to the use of the funds by both the State Parks Board and the Game and Fish Commission.

The State Parks portion of the Heritage Fund was to be distributed as follows:

  • State Parks Acquisition and Development (17%): Up to $1.7 million annually;
  • State Parks Natural Areas Acquisition (17%): Up to $1.7 million annually;
  • State Parks Natural Areas Operation and Management (4%): Up to $400,000 annually;
  • Environmental Education (5%): Up to $500,000 annually;
  • Trails (5%): Up to $500,000 annually (Grants);
  • Local, Regional and State Parks (35%): Up to $3.5 million annually (Grants);
  • Historic Preservation (17%): Up to $1.7 million annually (Grants).

Although the initiative contained the following statements “All monies in the Arizona State Parks Board Heritage Fund shall be spent by the Arizona State Parks Board only for the purposes and in the percentages set forth in this article” and “in no event shall any monies in the fund revert to the state general fund,” in February 2009 the State Parks Board canceled or suspended all Heritage Fund grants that were 1 to 90 percent complete. At that time the Legislature stopped providing funding for Arizona State Parks. Then in 2010, the Legislature not only canceled funding the State Parks portion of the Heritage Fund, they also removed the language from the Arizona Revised Statutes that allocated these funds to Arizona State Parks.

The Legislature continued to fund the Arizona Game and Fish Commission’s portion of the Heritage Fund.

In spite of the Arizona Heritage Alliance having been formed for the purpose of attempting to prevent the Legislature from sweeping the Heritage Fund, the Legislature succeeded anyway. Since 2009 the Heritage Alliance members have worked diligently attempting to reinstate the State Parks portion of the Heritage Fund, this time to include language in the initiative that would really protect the monies from being taken by either State Parks or the Legislature.

Ballot initiative: Representative Russ Jones has introduced a Bill (HCR 2047) that, if approved, would once again put an initiative on the ballot for the people of Arizona to make the decision whether or not they wanted a portion of the lottery funds to go toward Conservation and Preservation by means of the Heritage Fund. HCR 2047 is cosponsored by seventeen additional representatives, one being Rep. Frank Pratt from District 23.

At the request of Arizona State Parks and the Heritage Alliance, Northern Arizona University prepared data showing the economic impact one year of the Heritage Fund had on the state of Arizona.

“Total direct expenditures from the Heritage Fund in 2007 were $12,895,267 spent on both land acquisition and construction related to maintenance and repair. The direct program expenditures resulted in indirect expenditures of $4.6 million and induced expenditures of $8.5 million for a total economic impact of $26.1 million. Direct expenditures resulted in 125 direct jobs, 33 indirect jobs and 66 induced jobs, for a total of 224 jobs from ASP Heritage Funds. Estimated total taxes for these expenditures (state, local and federal) were $3.3 million.”

The Arizona Heritage Alliance President Elizabeth Woodin said, “This very productive fund administered by Arizona State Parks created hundreds of jobs and hundreds of thousands of dollars on the ground each year particularly in the rural areas. Those projects made life more pleasant and attracted more business and tourism. If the Legislature will not restore it outright, the least that can be done is to allow the voters to decide if they still want it. That is the fair and right thing to do.”

From 1991 through 2006 Florence received 18 Historic Preservation Heritage Fund Grants totaling $1,541,233, Casa Grande received 8 grants totaling $395,573, and Coolidge received 4 grants totaling $340,841. If the Heritage Fund can be reinstated, this funding source will again be available for not only Pinal County cities and towns, but for cities and towns all over the state to again rehabilitate their historic properties.

HCR 2047 is scheduled to be heard by three Committees. First is Agriculture and Water which is chaired by Representative Jones. This committee will hear it on Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 9 a.m. It is currently scheduled to be heard by two more committees on yet to be determined dates.

Please contact your representatives and encourage them to support HCR 2047 which would give the citizens of Arizona the opportunity to again vote to reinstate the Arizona State Parks Board Heritage Fund.

Celebrate Arizona’s Centennial Through Conservation!

More than 100 Conservation Advocates Meet with State Legislators for Environmental Day at the Capitol.

January 31, 2012, Phoenix, AZToday at the Arizona State Capitol, more than 100 people from 25 different legislative districts and representing more than 20 groups met with their state legislators in support of environmental protection and conservation programs.

Volunteer advocates asked legislators to support adequate funding for State Parks and to specifically support legislation sponsored by Representative Karen Fann (R-1) that allows parks to keep revenue generated from the parks to support the park system.

“Our state parks deserve to be open, public, and keep the money they earn at the gate from visitors, said Bret Fanshaw with Environment Arizona.  “We hope the legislature will pass Representative Fann’s bill in good faith that state parks will be protected in this year’s budget and into the future.”

Conservation of state trust lands has long been a key priority for most Arizona conservation groups. While there is no comprehensive measure on the table to do that, advocates asked legislators to support conserving state trust lands and to support the bills being promoted by Senator John Nelson (R-10) to facilitate limited and transparent land exchanges for better management of state trust lands and public lands. They asked the legislators to refrain from trying to swipe the last of the Land Conservation Fund, a voter-protected fund that supports conservation of state trust lands and for which voters again expressed support on the 2010 ballot.

“We need to preserve certain state trust lands to save their natural resources, open spaces, wildlife habitat, and historic/geologic features so that our communities now and in the future have those treasures,” said Ann Hutchinson, Executive Vice President, North Country Conservancy – Daisy Mountain Preservation Effort. “The values go way beyond the obvious beauty of the land and the opportunities to recreate. The preserved open spaces have economic value. Businesses and residents look to preserves and parks to raise and maintain a high quality of life. Homes and land surrounding parks and preserves have higher value.”

Keeping funding for the Arizona Water Protection Fund was also a key issue for many advocates. The Arizona Water Protection Fund is the only dedicated funding source to protect and restore riparian habitats in Arizona. In 2011, the Legislature voted to permanently eliminate the general fund appropriation for the program.

Also on the priority list for advocates was a measure sponsored by Representative Steve Farley (D-28) that reinstates both the Heritage Fund and the Local Transportation Assistance Fund, which helps to fund transit. Prior to the Legislature’s elimination of the State Parks Heritage Fund as part of the FY2011 budget, these dollars helped fund natural areas, historic preservation, and local and regional park programs.

“An additional measure, HCR 2047, sponsored by Representative Russ Jones, is a referral to the voters for the 2012 election and would restore the language and funding of the Parks’ side of the Heritage Fund,” said Janice Miano, Director of the Arizona Heritage Alliance. “With the success of either measure, the voters’ Heritage Fund would once again be whole and functioning, providing countless jobs, community pride, and potential for increased tourism to both city and rural areas.”

Group leaders expressed concerns about the plethora of anti-environmental legislation, much of it aimed at ignoring or weakening federal environmental laws and land protections. Among them are bills that seek to control national forests and other public lands, measures whose intent is to assert total control of air and water and thus ignore the provisions of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts.

“We need our state legislature and governor to step up to strengthen Arizona’s environmental protection laws, rather than seek to ignore or weaken the safety nets for clean air and clean water, as well as our endangered plants and animals,” said Sandy Bahr, Chapter Director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “Without the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act, there would be few, if any, protections for these important resources.”