Concerned citizen speaks out about latest “raid” on Arizona Heritage Fund

Below is a letter to Arizona’s Governor and state legislators from a concerned citizen about the potential impact of the state’s recent ’09 budget agreement on Arizona State Parks and the Arizona Heritage Alliance.  AHA received permission from the author to reprint it here.

Dear Governor Brewer:

This is not the first time the legislature has tried to raid Heritage Funds from Arizona State Parks.  But this time they did it so quickly and quietly “to balance the state budget deficit” that no one had the chance to make them stop and think about the consequences.

As a result, the State Parks Board, a very caring and forwarding thinking group of people, are left to deal with the mess that our legislature has handed them.  They have until February 20th to figure it out.  And I don’t know how they’re going to do it.

Will the Parks Board close seven state parks for good, or close all state parks a few days a week (hopefully not on the weekends), or will they pull a rabbit out of their collective hat to magically generate additional revenue to support themselves without taxpayer money?  I don’t know what they will do.  What I do know is that they deserve a whole lot of credit for not throwing their hands in the air and walking away from the big mess they have been handed.

Heritage Funds support our parks and historic preservation efforts, two very forward-thinking investments in the social and cultural life of our state.  The Fund has benefitted and could continue to benefit every legislative district in the state.  With tourism as one of our largest economic generators, both parks and history matter — to those who live here and to those who vacation here.  But none of those people seem to matter to our current legislature.

What matters is cutting numbers.  And, in doing that, our legislature has stopped work under every Heritage Grant underway.  The announcement came on February 2nd that all work was to stop as of February 1st.  (That is a neat trick in itself, traveling back in time like that.)

An even neater trick is that they called a stop to these grants, which all had legally executed contracts and legally recorded easements.  The easements state that Heritage grant funds “went” into those properties.  But as of February 1st, under our new balanced state budget, there seem to be no Heritage Funds to go into those properties.  The State Parks Board is looking into the legalities of severing contracts before presenting its revised departmental budget with what monies remain after the legislative sweep.

Legal difficulties aside, there are economic ramifications — exactly what you don’t want in our sluggish economy.  Let’s use a grant to Catlin Court Historic District in Glendale as the example.  If the state pulls Heritage matching funds (40% of the project cost), the property owner will not spend their matching funds (50%), and the City of Glendale will not spend their match (10%).  One hundred percent of that money will not stimulate our slow economy as the contractor ready to do the restoration work will not get paid (nor will he or she pay taxes on the work that he or she won’t do.)

The property itself will continue to deteriorate, adding nothing to the value of the neighborhood, the city, nor the state.  Where’s the tourism value in any of that?  And what is the loss in state revenue that occurs as a result of lessened tourism?

And apart from economics, and even apart from legalities, what does this one thoughtless budget cut by our legislature do to our quality of life in the long run?

In an emergency meeting today, one of the members of the State Parks Board said something along the lines of: We can’t think about 2010; we have five months of 2009 that we need to think about right now.  That was not a curt remark.  Far from it.  The man was pained to say it.  The State Parks Board has been placed in a tight spot and they are struggling to find a way out, right now.  They cannot think about the future until they figure out how to deal with the present.

It’s a crime to do that to such a forward-thinking bunch, to those who are planning a healthy future for Arizona, with parks and historic preservation, with recreational opportunities for our future generations and some history to anchor all of us in Arizona’s past.

We have very little history here in metro Phoenix.  And when we have none, when nothing gives us a reason to look back or to look to the future, we will all be as shortsighted as our current legislature seems to be today.

Rethink it, please.  Restore Heritage funding to State Parks.

Maureen Rooney