Initiative to fund Arizona state parks fails to make ballot

[Source: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services] –Arizonans are not going to get a chance to vote on whether they want to fund state parks with a surcharge on vehicle registration fees. Bill Meek, president of the Arizona Parks Foundation, said Tuesday the initiative campaign ran out of money about two weeks ago to hire paid circulators. “We had a really good army of volunteers,” he said. But Meek said that was insufficient to gather the 172,809 valid signatures needed by Thursday to put the question on the ballot.

Meek said, though, that is not the end of the issue. He said supporters of the plan will ask lawmakers next year to refer the issue to voters in 2014, bypassing the need to circulate petitions. The question of funding remains significant because lawmakers, looking for ways to balance the state budget in prior years, have refused to provide tax dollars to support the parks system. Complicating matters, legislators even took some of the money that had been raised from admission and other fees.

A 2009 task force report to Gov. Jan Brewer concluded that the parks system “is threatened with extinction and cannot survive under a roller-coaster system of financial support.”

The initiative had two key provisions.

One would have imposed a $14 surcharge added to the cost of each vehicle registration fee. That fee would be voluntary — but motorists would have to affirmatively opt out by checking a box on the renewal form to avoid paying it. Meek said states with similar systems manage to get anywhere from 40 to 80 percent of drivers agreeing to the additional fee. While Meek had no specific figures of what the fee might raise, that 2009 report estimated that even if half of motorists opt out, that could still raise $40 million a year.

The second half would make anything the parks system raised, whether from the vehicle license surcharge or admission fees, off limits to legislative raiding. Meek said he had hoped to line up sufficient major donors to get the signatures.

The idea of the registration fee is not new. In fact, it was part of the recommendations in that 2009 report to Brewer. Meek conceded there is probably no way lawmakers themselves would ever approve the plan — even with the opt-out provision — as many have taken a “no tax hike” pledge. Meek disputed, though, that it is a tax. But he said they might be willing to give voters a chance to weigh in by simply voting to put the issue on the ballot.

That logic worked in 2010 when lawmakers agreed to let voters decide whether to impose a temporary one-cent hike in the state sales tax. Several legislators who supported referring the issue to the ballot later said they voted against it in the special election that year. Meek, however, has an uphill fight, even to get that Referral.

A version of the vehicle license surcharge gained the support the following year by the House Committee on Natural Resources and Rural Affairs in 2010. But the full House refused to go along — or even send the question to the ballot.

Citizens to Save Arizona’s Natural Resources Makes Final Push to Qualify for 2012 November Ballot

[Source: Sedona.biz] – The Citizens to Save Arizona’s Natural Resources is a citizen-led initiative with over 200 volunteers across the state collecting signatures to qualify for this November’s ballot. Recent polling shows over 80% of Arizonans support the initiative and the funding it generates to ensure that Arizona State Parks is not in danger of shutting down due to lack of resources. The campaign currently has over 80,000 signatures in hand but needs an additional 100,000 signatures by early July to qualify for the ballot.

“We are confident voters will overwhelmingly pass the initiative this November but our true battle is qualifying for the ballot,” said Bill Meek, campaign spokesperson and longtime Arizona natural resources civic leader. “This initiative is critical to our state and I strongly encourage all Arizonans to sign the petition and visit aznaturalresources.org to make a donation to the campaign to help us hire professional signature gatherers to get us over the finish line in the short time remaining.”

There is also a 501(c)4 organization called Outdoors Arizona Now that is assisting the effort and contributions can be mailed to this social welfare organization at 2409 E. Solano Drive Phoenix, AZ 85016.

Polling shows only 23 percent of Arizonans believe funding for state parks is sufficient. “California is currently planning on closing 70 parks across the state and we cannot allow massive park closures to happen in Arizona,” added Meek. Since 2009 the Arizona State Legislature has transferred away from Arizona State Parks more than $15 million of the park system’s earned income (gate fees, gift shop proceeds, donations, and reservation surcharge funds.)

The ballot initiative provides that all Arizona schoolchildren, from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, receive free admission to Arizona State Parks when part of a school trip. 90% of likely Arizona voters support this provision of the ballot measure.

It also protects Arizona State Parks funds and the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Heritage Fund allocation from legislative fund sweeps and re-establishes the Arizona State Parks annual $10 million Heritage grant program for public and non-profit organizations. Annually, Arizonans who register their non-commercial motor vehicles will have the option of making a voluntary $14 per vehicle donation to help fund this measure.

Meek added, “We need to act now. This is a legacy campaign for all generations in Arizona’s centennial year. Help Arizona, its children, and its natural resources now.”

Arizona State Park’s funding would be protected by voters

The Arizona Natural Resources Act would allow our state parks to keep entry fees and other park generated monies. In the past three years, the legislature swept $15 million dollars of entry fees from the park’s budget to fill other state budget shortfalls. “We were lucky this year,” said Park’s Board member Larry Landry.  “The Legislature didn’t steal any of our money for the first time since 2009.”

Landry and the six other board volunteers voted unanimously to support the Arizona Natural Resources Act, which would also give Arizona drivers an opportunity to donate $14 each year when they renew their vehicle tags.  That money would allow the state’s students grade 12 and under to enter state parks for free.  The Act would also protect $10 million in lottery money each year earmarked for the state Game and Fish Department.

Those gathering signatures for the act include ASU student Andrew Atallah, who said he has fond memories of going to the Tonto Natural Bridge as a youngster.  Atallah said even though Arizona was one of the last states to set up a park system, he doesn’t want it to be the first to lose it’s parks.

[Source: Steve Bodinet, azfamily.com] -Volunteers will be collecting signatures at the entrances to many state parks, trail heads, coffee shops and sporting good stores throughout the state.  State Parks Foundation Executive Director Cristie Statler said they won’t give up on the voter protection if enough signatures aren’t gathered this year, but will keep pressing the legislature to let the parks keep the money they earn.

Arizona parks backers push for November ballot measure

[Source: Mike Sunnucks, Phoenix Business Journal] – Backers of a proposed state ballot measure to protect state parks from future budget raids say they are moving forward with their effort to get on the November ballot. The Arizona Natural Resources Protection Act also would offer schoolchildren free admission to state parks and would allocate a portion of automobile taxes to state parks in the budget. The money would go toward operations, repairs and improvements.The measure needs to collect 172,800 voter petition signatures by July 5 to get on the November ballot.

Backers of the plan were considering waiting until the 2014 election to make the push, but Larry Landry, a partner with lobbying firm Landry Creedon & Associates Inc., said they are opting “to move full steam ahead” with the signature-gathering effort and try to meet the deadline.

Landry said the measure polls well with voters. The Arizona Legislature has raided or swept $15 million from parks and conservation funds and budgets since 2009 and passed tax cuts as it dealt with overall budget shortfalls.

Parks measure advocates are reaching out to environmental, education, business and tourism groups touting the state parks’ contribution to the Arizona economy, especially through tourism. Major business and tourism groups contacted, including the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, Arizona Business and Education Coalition, National Federation of Independent Businessand Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, said they don’t have an official stance on the measure.