Viewpoint: Arizona Legislature raids legacy of dead woman

[Source: Arizona Republic editorial board] — Stealing a dead woman’s legacy — that’s how far the Legislature has gone in its raid on funding for Arizona State Parks.  Our parks system has taken a wildly disproportionate hit in state budget-balancing efforts.  It has been years since the state itself put any money into the parks.  Now, lawmakers are draining virtually every other source of revenue.

Including $250,000 bequeathed by Asta Forrest, a Danish immigrant and Fountain Hills resident.  She gave the money with no strings attached (big mistake, as it turns out), just because she loved Arizona State Parks.  Forrest must have seen how state parks offer the best of Arizona for entertainment and education.  From Lake Havasu to Kartchner Caverns to Picacho Peak to the Tombstone Courthouse, there are places for boating, hiking, fishing, birding, swimming, sightseeing, and exploring.  In a tourism-oriented state, these are economic assets as well as part of our quality of life.

Yet in December, lawmakers siphoned so much out of state-park accounts, including money from entrance fees, that the very existence of the system is at stake.  That $8.6 million raid filled just a speck of this year’s $1.5 billion state budget hole.  On Jan. 15, the State Parks Board will weigh what parks to close — with the risk of going into a death spiral of falling entrance fees that force more and more closures.  It’s time to consider a task force’s proposal to fund parks with an optional $15 vehicle-registration surcharge.

In this crisis, every state agency must endure painful cuts.  But not gutting.  [Note: To read the full editorial online, visit Viewpoint: Arizona Legislature raids legacy of dead woman.]

Woman’s $250,000 donation to Arizona parks gets poached

Asta Forrest (1919-2001)

[Source: Jay Reynolds, Channel 15 News] — There’s an Arizona budget battle brewing in an unlikely place.  Eighty-two-year-old Asta Forrest loved Arizona. So, when she died in 2001, she left a legacy by donating to the Arizona State Parks.  “Asta was a true lady,” said trustee and family friend Roger Essenburg.

According to her will, a 2003 donation of nearly $250,000 was given to the Arizona Department of Parks on behalf of Asta Forrest.  “She wanted to give this money so that other people could enjoy the state parks and all they have to offer,” said Essenburg.

While parks officials considered what to do with her donation, Arizona’s budget deficit climbed.  But last month, when the state Legislature met to cut cash from the budget, $213,000 was taken away from the Arizona State Parks donation fund.  “The state Legislature came in and took this money,” said Essenburg.  [Note: To view the TV news segment, visit Woman’s $250,000 donation to Arizona parks gets poached.]

Widow’s hefty donation to Arizona parks is poached

[Source: Casey Newton, Arizona Republic] — In their latest effort to solve Arizona’s budget crisis with cuts, lawmakers turned to a woman who couldn’t make a fuss.  After all, she has been dead for eight years.  Alta Forest, a Danish immigrant who fell in love with Arizona after moving to Fountain Hills with her husband, left nearly $250,000 to the Arizona State Parks Board when she died of cancer at age 82.

When parks officials received the money in 2003, it was the largest private donation the parks system had ever received.  They were unprepared for such a large gift, said Ken Travous, who served as state-parks director for 23 years before retiring in June.  “We had never received anything of that magnitude before,” he said, adding that he began “looking for something that was big enough to really make her proud.”

While parks officials considered what to do with the money, Arizona’s budget deficit ballooned into the billions.  Last month, when the Republican-led Legislature met in special session to cut $140 million from the budget, it swept up half the money in the parks system’s donations fund, which included most of Forest’s donation.  “It was like they had kicked me in the stomach,” Travous said.  “Surely, I thought, they have some shame.  But they’re shameless.”  [Note: Read the full article at Widow’s hefty donation to Arizona parks is poached.]