Misconception hurts state parks

[Source: Arizona Republic Editorial] – The struggling state park system isn’t suddenly and magically awash in cash. But there’s a pernicious misconception that it is because the Arizona State Parks Board approved more than $40 million in grants for two cities to buy state trust land. This is not park money.

The board happens to be, under the terms of a voter-approved referendum, the gatekeeper for funding to preserve trust land. The parks don’t get one penny.

It’s a lot like the state treasurer. The office manages billions of dollars a year. But that doesn’t turn Treasurer Doug Ducey and his staff into billionaires.

This kind of misunderstanding – whether willful or careless – may be one reason legislators have so blithely undermined Arizona State Parks. They cut off all state support in 2009. Since then, they’ve reached right into the till, diverting money that the parks themselves earn through entrance fees and concessions. This is not only wrong but also profoundly disingenuous from legislators who want agencies to act more like businesses.

As Arizona heads into yet another challenging year for the state budget, we can’t make smart decisions without looking at the numbers in context. All dollars aren’t the same. Some funding has legal constraints. Some spending has broader benefits beyond the immediate budget line.

Take that $40 million. It’s from the Growing Smarter fund, which voters approved in 1998. The ballot measure required the state to put aside $220 million, over the course of 11 years, to be used as matching money to preserve state trust land. (Trust land cannot be set aside for conservation outright but must be bought or leased.) Scottsdale just got approval for a $36.2 million grant to help expand its mountain preserve.Phoenixis getting $4.18 million to put toward buying land for the Sonoran Preserve.

Given the well-established value of open space – from tourist appeal to recreation to wildlife habitat – those are farsighted moves that will benefit all Arizonans in the long run.

It gets better. The dollars actually do double duty, helping Arizona schools, as well. Money from the sale of trust land is put into a permanent fund, with the interest going to education and a few other public purposes. Because of the matching requirements, the Growing Smarter grants will end up putting more than $80 million into the permanent fund. The story is far more complex than a single figure on a balance sheet.

Push to protect Arizona’s parks from budget cuts gains steam

[Source: Shaun McKinnon, AZ Republic, Page 1] –  Arizonans overwhelmingly support state parks and open spaces and believe such areas contribute to a region’s economic health, but few people understand how the state pays for its parks, a new survey says. That lack of knowledge could imperil a parks system already weakened by budget cuts if lawmakers don’t hear from enough voters who want open spaces protected, according to Arizona Forward, a newly organized group that commissioned the survey.

“Nothing is stronger than grass roots, with people calling their elected officials saying, ‘This is important to me, I want my parks to be open,’ ” said Diane Brossart, acting director of the group. “But I think we take these things for granted, and until there’s a crisis, people are not engaged with the issues.” [to read the full article click here].

Scottsdale, Phoenix acquire trust land for preserves

[Source: azcentral.com]

Scottsdale and Phoenix were unopposed Friday in separate bids to acquire state trust land for their respective preserves, generating more than $69 million for the Arizona State Land Department.

The department scheduled the back-to-back auctions at its headquarters in downtown Phoenix.

 

Scottsdale succeeded in its bid for 2,000 acres in the Granite Mountain area of northern Scottsdale. The cost was $44.1 million, of which half will be covered by a grant from Arizona’s Growing Smarter conservation fund.

“These dollars are really only available for this use,” said Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane, who represented the city in its winning bid. “It is perfect timing.”

Scottsdale has acquired and protected almost 18,000 acres for its McDowell Sonoran Preserve, with a goal of preserving 36,000 acres.

Phoenix was the lone bidder on 1,139 acres a mile south of the Carefree Highway and 4 miles east of Interstate 17.A Growing Smarter grant will cover half the purchase price of $25.8 million. The remainder will be paid by sales-tax proceeds from the Phoenix Parks and Preserve Initiative, city spokesman David Urbinato said.

Voters approved the measure in 1999 that raises funds to preserve thousands of acres of state trust land and build and improve parks. Sixty percent of the money goes toward purchasing state trust land for the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. The city has 6,688 acres in total.

“It’s very rewarding to be able to come and add to our preserve,” said Councilwoman Thelda Williams, who made the bid for Phoenix.

Money generated by the auctions goes toward funding for public schools and other entities.

 

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