Action Alert! Voter-approved Arizona Heritage Fund threatened (once again)

[Source: Arizona Heritage Alliance] — You are aware the Arizona State Legislature is in the process of resolving a $1.5 billion dollar budget shortfall for the remainder of fiscal year 2009 and a $3.5 billion dollar shortfall for 2010.

We realize all state agencies are being hit hard, but the impact on Arizona State Parks will be crippling and ALL of the State Parks administered state-funded grant programs have been discontinued until further notice – this includes Heritage Fund grants.

All work on State Parks Heritage Fund grant projects has been stopped effective February 1, 2009.  Until we hear otherwise, Heritage Fund grants that were awarded last year and have started construction or reconstruction are to CEASE.

This is not the first time the legislature has tried to raid Heritage Funds from Arizona State Parks.  Thanks to you and thousands of other Arizonans who contacted their legislators in the past, we were able to stave off 30+ such raids. But this time they did it under the guise of balancing the budget deficit that no one had the chance to make them stop and think about the consequences.

As a result, the State Parks Board is left to deal with the mess handed to them. The State Parks Board has until February 20 to figure it out.  Will the Parks Board close eight state parks for good, or close all state parks a few days a week?  Whatever they choose, the impact on Arizona State Parks will be devastating.  

Governor Jan Brewer signed this budget.  We urge you to call or e-mail Governor Brewer and ask her to review the options for the State Parks budget and tell her not to sweep Heritage Fund dollars! Arizona’s 27 State Parks welcome 2.3 million visitors each year. They are our past, present, and future. We need to embrace them, and be good stewards.

What can you do?

  • Voice your opinion to Governor Brewer at: 602-542-1318, toll free 1-800-253-0883, or e-mail
  • Visit and bookmark the Arizona Heritage Alliance website
  • Sign onto our “Dear Legislator” letter
  • Forward this Action Alert to like-minded friends, family members, and colleagues

As always, thank you for your support of Arizona’s heritage. If you have any questions, comments, or ideas, please contact us.

Roper, 7 other Arizona parks to remain open for now

[Source: Diane Saunders, Wick Communications] — Roper Lake State Park south of Safford dodged an economic bullet Feb. 4 when the Arizona State Parks Board decided not to close eight state parks in an effort to help the state budget crisis.  Instead, the State Parks Board will examine other ways to overcome a budget deficit at its Feb. 20 meeting, according to the department’s Web site.  Roper Lake and seven other Arizona state parks were targeted for closure after the Arizona Legislature decided to divert money from the agency to help balance the state’s budget.

According to the Arizona State Parks Department, Roper is one of the costliest parks in Arizona to operate. Nearly 86,000 people visit Roper each year, however, the cost to the state is $2.51 per visitor.  In comparison, Arizona’s costliest park to operate is McFarland State Historical Park in Pinal County.  That park draws 4,945 visitors a year and it costs the state $37.94 per visitor to operate, according to the Arizona State Parks Department.  Only two of Arizona’s state parks make money – Catalina in Pima County and Kartchner Caverns in Cochise County.  Catalina has 168,874 visitors a year and makes a profit of 90 cents per visitor.  Kartchner draws 160,013 visitors a year and makes $2.51 per visitor.

Ellen Bilbery, spokeswoman for the State Parks Department, said Arizona’s state park system was set up 52 years ago as a way to draw visitors to cities and towns in Arizona while protecting the state’s natural features and wildlife.  Making money for the state was not the main reason the parks were opened.

The history of the park system, however, does not help the current financial crisis in Arizona.  To balance the state’s budget, Arizona government is “sweeping” money from a variety of funds, including county and municipal budgets, to eliminate state budget deficits this year and next fiscal year, which begins July 1, local and state officials say.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

No Arizona state funds for rebuilding Parker pool

[Source: John Gutekunst, Parker Pioneer] — The Arizona State Parks Department has informed the Town of Parker they will not be providing funds to rebuild the town’s pool.  In an e-mail sent Feb. 2 to Community Development Director Guy Gorman, the parks department said that, due to the state’s budget problems, they were suspending further expenditures on projects funded with grants from the department.  The e-mail stated the legislature had cut funding for the Heritage Grant program. 

Heritage Grant and State Lake Improvement Fund recipients were told to halt construction if state funds were critical to the completion of the project.  The town had planned to use a State Parks Heritage Grant to rebuild the pool.  The grant was awarded in 2006.  The plan was to have the pool ready and open by this summer.  The current pool has deteriorated to the point where it has been closed since 2003.  “This legislative action comes with great disappointment to the community,” Mayor Karen Bonds said in a prepared statement. “Many hours of effort by so many have already been put into this project.”  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Viewpoint: Arizona legislative cuts may force state parks to close

[Source: Bill Meek, President, Arizona State Parks Foundation] — It’s difficult to be heard above the roar of concern from the education community over the ravages of state cost-cutting measures that are designed to overcome a two-year, $3 billion budget deficit.  But some of the rest of us have to try.

I write on behalf of Arizona State Parks, a small agency that serves more than 2 million people and is threatened with extinction by the Arizona Legislature’s attempts to close its budget gap with any money it can find, regardless of the end result.

Arizona’s 30 state parks welcomed 2.3 million visitors in 2007.  They were hikers, boaters, swimmers, fishermen, campers, history students, photographers, bird watchers and just plain gawkers.  All were served at no cost to Arizona taxpayers because the parks take in more money than the Legislature spends on them.

In fact, during the past eight years, the Legislature has taken $60 million more from State Parks than it has appropriated from the General Fund to run the system.  That’s because every three or four years, when the state has a budget crisis, the Legislature sweeps funds that State Parks has set aside for capital improvements and for grants to city and county park systems.

State Parks has had no operating fund increases since 2002 and hasn’t had a meaningful capital budget since 2003.  As a result, State Parks has massive unmet capital needs and their facilities are falling into ruin.  Historical buildings, like Jerome’s Douglas Mansion, are collapsing due to disrepair.  Waste water systems throughout the parks are disintegrating and have been condemned by environmental regulators.  Beaches are eroding and docks are splintering at state rivers and lakes.

These are assets that belong to the citizens of Arizona, but the Legislature seems to think it is the landlord and is apparently willing to be a slumlord.

While State Parks has been strapped for money to maintain its facilities for many years, it has not had to fire employees.  The Legislature has always left just enough money in the till to avoid layoffs.  Until now.

Last Friday, the Legislative budget builders adopted a spending plan that cuts State Parks operating and capital funds by $26.3 million in 2009 and $23.2 million in 2010, leaving the agency about $8 million short of operating cash each year, according to Parks officials.  They say that means layoffs.  Even an expected infusion of $500 million of federal stimulus funds brings no relief to State Parks.

The Legislature also thumbed its nose at Arizona voters by grabbing nearly $5 million of Arizona Heritage Fund money.  More than a decade ago, state voters created the Heritage Fund by authorizing the Game & Fish and Parks departments to split $20 million of state lottery funds annually for wildlife habitat and other purposes.

In the Parks system, when employees are fired, parks must be closed.  Parks officials have already targeted five parks for closure and as many as a third of the state’s parks could be closed under the Legislature’s budget axe.  Some might never re-open.

The timing of these cuts couldn’t be worse, when we may be on the cusp of finding a solution to the parks system’s long-term needs.

Based on a request that originated from the Arizona State Parks Foundation, former Gov. Janet Napolitano appointed a citizens task force to study the future of the parks system and recommend long-range solutions to Parks financing.  With the support of Gov. Jan Brewer, the task force will soon begin work.

In addition, the State Parks Board has contracted with the Morrison Institute at Arizona State University and with Northern Arizona University for research to support the task force’s mission.  The studies will provide a social and economic framework for State Parks in the context of massive population growth over the next 20 years.

The state budget for 2010 is not cast in concrete, but based on the Legislature’s approach this year, 2010 could be much worse for State Parks.  Let’s hope there is something left for the parks task force to save.

[Note: To date, this opinion piece has been reprinted in the White Mountain Independent and Camp Verde Bugle.]