Viewpoint: Cut to Arizona state parks a cut at state’s voters

This December photo of San Xavier Mission shows completed restoration work on tower at left. Funding to restore tower at right has been elminated as part of the Legislature's effort to balance the state budget. (Photo: Rene Brachmonte, Tucson Citizen)

[Source: Anne T. Denogean, Tucson Citizen] — When state legislators cut Arizona State Parks funding as part of balancing the current fiscal year budget, they left nothing untouched.  The $26.3 million cut included a sweep of $4.9 million from the Heritage Fund, which, as its name implies, supports the heritage, history, and culture of Arizona.

Defunding state parks is bad enough, but in raiding the Heritage Fund, the Legislature gave the middle finger to Arizona voters.  Those voters created the fund in 1990, ordering that up to $20 million from the sale of lottery tickets be divided each year between the state park system and the Arizona Game & Fish Department.  The funds provide grants for projects to conserve our natural and wildlife resources.  They are used for historic preservation projects, for building and maintaining trails and for acquiring land for open space or outdoor recreation facilities.

Despite public support for the fund, legislators have been looking for ways to raid it since its inception, said Beth Woodin, president of the Arizona Heritage Alliance.  The nonprofit alliance formed in 1992 to protect the fund has helped fight off more than 30 previous attempts by legislators to pillage it.  Only once, in 2003, did the Legislature follow through with plans to take $10 million in Heritage Fund money from Game & Fish.

Woodin said just about every city and town in Arizona has benefited from the grants.  “The Heritage Fund represents education.  It’s a form of education about historic monuments, about wildlife, about habitats… To take that away is like taking away the foundation,” Woodin said.

Early this week, state park grant coordinators sent letters telling grant recipients not to spend the money that’s been awarded. Linda Mayro, Pima County cultural resources manager, said in excess of $1.5 million in Heritage Fund grants for projects countywide will be lost.  The Pascua Yaqui tribe had been awarded $430,500 to develop Pascua Yaqui Park.  Pima County is losing $59,700 it would have used to restore the historical Ajo Immaculate Conception Church.  The nonprofit Patronato San Xavier lost the $150,000 it had been counting on to start restoration of the east tower of San Xavier Mission.

The red-meat Republicans who dominate the Legislature may think they’re quite clever in sweeping this fund, thus avoiding cutting the budget elsewhere or raising taxes.  But it’s just another of their penny wise, pound foolish decisions and a poke in the eye to voters who told them two decades ago to keep their grubby hands off this money.

These projects often provide jobs, bring in matching federal and private grant money, and improve the assets that draw tourists to Arizona.  “These are our best amenities and it’s such a disinvestment to take this Heritage Fund away,” Mayro said.

Bill Meek, president of the Arizona State Parks Foundation, said chronic underfunding of capital needs is destroying our state parks.  “The state parks are a mess… What the customers don’t see very much of is the erosion that’s going on behind the scenes,” he said.  “They don’t see the wastewater systems that are being condemned by DEQ in almost every park in the state. They don’t see the walls that are about to fall down or did just fall down… because those things are sort of hidden from them.”

Legislative leadership has insisted that the budget must be hatcheted to address the state’s deficit, while ruling without any discussion of most alternatives, including — yes, I’ll say it — new taxes.  The deficit is daunting and deep cuts are unavoidable. But make no mistake about it, it’s the Legislature’s choice to swing the ax and let the parts fall where they may.  History, culture, and education be damned.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Arizona State Parks Foundation letter to Gov. Napolitano

September 4, 2008

The Honorable Janet Napolitano
State of Arizona
1700 W. Washington, 9th Floor
Phoenix, Arizona 85007

Dear Governor Napolitano:

I am writing to you as the president of the Arizona State Parks Foundation (ASPF), a not-for-profit organization that works in a variety of ways to help the State Parks Department meet its goals.  My purpose in writing is to inform you that ASPF strongly supports the request from the Arizona State Parks Board that you appoint a blue ribbon committee to analyze the current and future needs of the park system and explore stable revenue sources to meet the goals of the park system.

You may be aware that during the recent budget crisis ASPF engaged in a very public campaign, including contacts with statewide news media and Arizona legislators, to try to minimize the damage to State Parks from fund sweeps and budget cuts.  While we may have had some limited success, the experience convinced most of our board of directors that the parks system cannot meet the expectations of Arizona citizens while continuing to ride a financial roller coaster.  In response, we recommended the action that the Parks Board has taken.

I know you are well aware that the parks system contains several of the state’s scenic treasures, historic sites that would crumble into oblivion without protection and some of the most popular recreation areas in the southwest. The parks generate far more economic benefit to Arizona communities than the cost of maintaining them.  We are convinced that an expanded network of parks and open spaces, including county and municipal properties, is also an important social safety valve in a state that is already among the most urbanized in the country and growing more so.

For all of these reasons, ASPF seeks a long-range view of the role of State Parks and a reliable means of funding its mission.  Toward that end, we fervently support your appointment of the blue ribbon committee requested by the Parks Board.  ASPF stands ready to assist such a committee in its efforts in any way possible.


Bill Meek, President
Arizona State Parks Foundation

Funding sweeps leave Arizona state parks in shambles

[Source: John Collins Rudolf, The Zonie Report] — The steady gaze of Ernest McFarland, who in the mid-20th century served Arizona as a U.S. senator, governor and state supreme court justice, looks down on every visitor to the state park that bears his name, a restored frontier courthouse in dusty Florence, built in 1874.

“We will never be perfect in our government, but high ideals can predominate,” reads a brass plaque beneath the portrait, quoting one of McFarland’s favorite sayings. Yet perfection is hardly the word that comes to mind during a tour of McFarland State Historic Park.  Massive cracks stretch from floor to ceiling on more than one of the building’s original adobe walls.  A support beam braces a crumbling exterior wall, keeping the wall and sections of roof from collapsing. In another room, which over the years served variously as a jail, county hospital and prisoner-of-war camp, caution tape warns visitors to avoid a gaping hole in the floor.  [Note: to read the full article, click here.]

Legislative cost-cutting threatens Arizona parks (Tucson Citizen guest opinion)

[Source: Bill Meek, Arizona State Parks Foundation] — Arizona’s state parks system is crumbling, and the Legislature is threatening to apply a sledgehammer to the problem.  Our 30 state park sites preserve some scenic gems, such as Catalina near Tucson, the world-famous Kartchner Caverns near Benson, and Red Rock State Park in Sedona.  State parks also protect historic treasures such as Homolovi Ruins near Winslow and the Yuma Territorial Prison.  And a bevy of wildly popular water-oriented parks are at lakes and rivers across the state.  Arizona’s state parks welcomed 2.3 million visitors last year.

In exchange for meager state funding, the parks generate about $126 million annually in tourist revenue for their neighboring counties and municipalities, shows a 2002 study by Northern Arizona University.  The Legislature appropriates only $8.2 million to the Parks department from the general fund.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]