State Parks petitions hit the street

[Source: Steve Ayers, Camp Verde Bugle] – The move to put an initiative on the November ballot that supporters hope will stabilize and sustain Arizona’s 27 state parks, is underway. It is known as the Arizona Natural Resources Protection Act. With five state parks located in the Verde Valley, along with the Verde River Greenway, the initiative is getting plenty of support locally.

“This has everything to do with the value of state parks to the Verde Valley and to Yavapai County,” says Chip Norton, president of the Friends of the Verde River Greenway. “It means a lot to our communities and the opportunities it provides for school kids as well as the residents. The tourism component is really big. The amount of money it brings into the valley is pretty phenomenal. They have been hanging on the edge for too long, forcing local communities to keep them going.” Norton and the friends group launched the petition drive at a meeting last Thursday, at a meeting in Cottonwood.

If the initiative makes the ballot and it passes, it would fund the operations of Arizona State Parks as well as the Heritage Fund, which was also raided by the Legislature, with a $14 donation attached to annual vehicle registration. The charge would be automatically added to the registration cost, but vehicle owners could opt out. Supporters hope it will raise $30 million a year. The initiative protects all money donated to the fund from legislative sweeps and re-establishes the Arizona State Parks grant program, which pays for municipal and nonprofit recreation projects across the state. It also provides for free admission to state parks for school-age children when on school sanctioned field trips and sets aside at least one day every year in which anyone could come to a state park for free.

The initiative was launched by the Arizona State Parks Foundation after House Bill 2362, which overwhelmingly passed both the house and Senate, was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer. “We have been watching for some time and realized there was growing support for long-term support and a long term funding mechanism of some sort. So we began forming a coalition,” says ASPF Director Christy Statler. “The straw that broke the camel’s back was the governor’s veto. And no legislator wanted to stick their neck out for a referral to the voters, so we mobilized and are moving forward with the Arizona Natural Resources Act.”

Volunteers will be circulating petitions around the valley over the next few weeks. To get on the ballot, 175,000 signatures will need to be collected statewide by the July 5 deadline.

Arizona Heritage Fund Update, Summer 2012

This past legislative session, HCR2047, sponsored by Representative Russ Jones (R-Yuma) and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 17 members of the House, would have placed a referendum on the November ballot seeking voter approval for reinstatement of the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund. “Pristine areas that represent the varied vistas, flora, and fauna found throughout Arizona, along with many important fragile sites, represent the heart and soul of our state,” Jones said. “It’s particularly important now, as Arizona celebrates its Centennial, that we rededicate ourselves to the preservation of our historical roots and spectacular vistas.”

The bill passed its first hurdle, gaining the unanimous 9-0 vote of the House Agricultural and Water Committee. However, the measure was suffocated in the State House before it could even get a full debate. The House Appropriations Committee chairman, Representative John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), said there were more important uses for the money and denied it a hearing.

“Voters fought for 22 years to protect this fund,” said Beth Woodin, President of the Heritage Alliance and former Arizona Game & Fish Commissioner. “We’re doing everything we can in our waking hours to bring it back to them. The Heritage Fund has a huge economic impact,” she said. “For legislators who are cranking the line about job creation and community pride, this is something really positive to have on your resume.”

In May, the Citizens to Save Arizona’s Natural Resources filed language for an Initiative to seek qualification for the November 2012 statewide ballot that provides voter-protected funding for the management and protection of our natural resources.  The new initiative called the Arizona Natural Resources Protection Act will ensure that current and future generations are able to enjoy the natural splendor, historic heritage and outdoor recreational opportunities offered at our Arizona parks and recreational areas.

This campaign was created in a very short time in response to the Governor’s veto of HB2362, state parks revenue fund, which was sponsored by Representative Karen Fann (R-Prescott). Fann’s bill would have established the State Parks Revenue Fund consisting of retail sales, appropriations, gifts, donations, user fees, concession fees and other revenue generating activities.

Previously, for many years, Parks was asked by the Governor and Legislature to operate like a business and make its own money. It did just that, and fairly well, but the Legislature took all of that too. HB2362 was intended to be a remedy for that sort of sweep. It passed the House and Senate with about 97% of the vote only to be vetoed by the Governor. Brewer did not like that there were no provisions to have those funds appropriated by the Legislature. As part of budget 2012 negotiations, those funds are now permitted to go to Parks as long as they are appropriated.

Currently, the group, Citizens to Save Arizona’s Natural Resources, is hoping it can gather the 230,000 or so signatures necessary to make it to the ballot for 2012. The Arizona Natural Resources Protection Act, if successful, will be funded donations from generous citizens when they renew their drivers’ registrations. The fee suggested is $14, but one may opt out of it for any or all automobile registrations. This is not a tax. It is voluntary. It is hoped that enough citizens will donate to fill the fund and more so that State Parks may once again keep all parks open and in good repair.

This Initiative language is written by Andy Gordon who penned the original Heritage Fund Initiative in 1990. Gordon is a partner with Coppersmith Schermer & Brockelman PLCand specializes in Election Law. This measure to help save State Parks is important for Arizona’s wildlife too. It would:

  • voter-protects the entire $10 million Game and Fish Heritage Fund.
  • establishes a new State Parks granting fund for $10 million to be used for habitat protection and purchase as well as environmental education and historic preservation.
  • protects all Arizona State Parks funds from Legislative sweeps.

If the Arizona Natural Resources Protection Act does not make it to the ballot or is not passed by the voters in 2012, another similar initiative will get crafted in November for the 2014 election cycle. The Arizona Heritage Alliance will continue leading the dialog with community leaders to reinstate the State Parks Heritage Fund.

A 2007 study estimated that 224 jobs were directly supported by Parks Heritage Fund grants. Heritage-funded improvements to parks and historic sites help attract more than 2 million visitors, about half from out of state, who add $266 million to our state’s economy each year and support an additional 3,000 jobs, mostly in rural areas that have been among the most heavily impacted by the economic downturn.

Reinstatement of the parks funding is not a partisan issue. It is not a liberal-conservative issue. It is common sense and sound business practice a win-win for wildlife and habitat, outdoor recreation, historical restoration and Arizona taxpayers.

For more information regarding the Arizona Natural Resources Protection Act go to:

New Statewide Coalition Rallies For Parks and Open Space

[Source: Christie Silverstein, Arizona Forward, 2/21/2012] – A statewide coalition of business and environmental organizations rallied today at the State Capitol in support of legislation to bolster the financial condition of Arizona State Parks. The lead organizations were Arizona Forward, a statewide business association, and the Arizona State Parks Foundation, backed by 300 other business, environmental and community organizations. Arizona Forward was launched on Aug. 31 with the release of  “Why Parks and Open Space Matter – the Economics of Arizona’s Natural Assets,” a comprehensive examination of the status of Arizona efforts to preserve the outdoor environment. After releasing the primer, Arizona Forward was contacted by parks stakeholders around the state to help form an advocacy coalition.

The immediate purpose of the capitol rally is to show support for HB 2362, a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Karen Fann, R‐Prescott, with 22 other sponsors in the House and Senate. The bill would protect the income earned by state parks through entrance fees and other user charges from legislative budget sweeps. Brian Martyn, a Pinal County supervisor and Parks Foundation board member, said the Fann bill is vitally important to state parks in trying to meet business goals. “Like any business, state parks need incentives to meet its objectives, including the assurance that using best business practices will contribute to the financial success of the parks system,” said Martyn.

“That assurance is missing if the Legislature can sweep the income that parks earn.”

Other messages advanced by the coalition, Martyn said, include “the recognition that the Fann bill doesn’t solve the long‐term funding gap faced by state parks and we are working to convince legislators that state parks operations cannot stand any additional sweeps from its remaining revenue sources.”

Martyn noted that state parks are in precarious financial condition, causing a number of

parks to operate on reduced hours and others staying open only through temporary

contributions from local governments and friends groups. Kurt Wadlington, Tucson building group leader for Sundt Construction and chairman of Arizona Forward, said the parks report was validation of the business case for environmental prioritization. “We learned from statewide polling that nearly every Arizonan (93 percent) believes that parks and open space are essential to Arizona tourism, a $17 billion industry.”

“Other studies we reviewed showed that outdoor recreation attracts more than 5.5 million Arizonans, generating approximately $350 million in annual state taxes and nearly $5 billion in retail services while supporting 82,000 jobs,” he said. “Clearly, it is in every Arizonan’s interest to maintain a robust system of parks, open space and wildlife habitat and Arizona Forward is exploring long‐term solutions to funding that system,” added Wadlington.

Arizona lawmakers, businesses, residents to rally for state parks

[Source: Jimena Martinez,, 2/21/2012] – Arizona lawmakers, businesses, and residents will get the opportunity to rally for the 30 state parks and Natural Areas in the state.The Arizona State Parks Foundation is hosting Arizona State Parks Advocacy Day 2012 at the state capitol lawn Tuesday.

A newly-formed statewide coalition of business and environmental organizations will also rally forHB2362, which is a bipartisan bill that would protect state park revenues from legislative budget sweeps. The bill was introduced by Representative Karen Fann, R-Prescott.

The group has acknowledged that the legislation doesn’t provide a permanent solution for the financial problems facing state parks, but says it’s committed to identifying and securing a dedicated funding source for state parks. Just this month, it was announced that no state parks will be closing for the first time in two years as a result of state budget cuts.