Arizona moving to use conservation money before vote

[Source: Arizona Capitol Times, Paul Davenport] – Arizona parks officials and local governments in the Phoenix and Flagstaff areas are moving to spend up to $52 million of land conservation money that legislators envisioned being used instead to help keep the budget in the black.

The state Parks Board on Wednesday voted to award grants to Coconino County and the cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale for separate purchases of large parcels of state trust land for preservation as open space. The $52 million would come from a decade-old land conservation fund authorized by a voter-approved 1998 ballot measure that is now the subject of a new ballot measure that appears as Proposition 301 on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.

Under the Growing Smarter conservation program, public and private entities can get state funding for purchases of trust land for conservation purposes. The purchaser must provide a match to the state funding [to read the full article click here].

Viewpoint: Holding up vote on state park license fee an abuse of power

[Source: Arizona Daily Sun editorial, 3-10-2010] — Now we know at the state level what the exercise of personal privilege in the U.S. Senate feels like.  State Rep. John Kavanagh is Arizona’s equivalent of Jim Bunning, the North Carolina senator who held up the recent jobs bill for several days by refusing to join in “unanimous consent” to let the bill proceed to a vote without a filibuster.  Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican, doesn’t like a bill that proposes to fund state parks with a vehicle license surcharge.  The $12-per-plate fee would raise tens of millions of dollars a year, and in return any vehicle with an Arizona license plate gains free entrance to a state park.  Also, the extra money would be used to help ADOT reopen some of the highway rest areas closed for lack of funds.

“It’s a tax increase, which isn’t consistent with the Republican program,” Kavanagh told Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services.  That’s a debatable point — fees that pay for a specific user benefit are usually not considered taxes.  But even if Kavanagh were correct, he is still making his point in a profoundly anti-democratic way.  He is refusing as the appointed chair of the House Appropriations Committee to hold a hearing on the bill.  And without a hearing and a vote in committee, the bill can’t move forward to the floor.  [Note: To read the full editorial, click here.]

Funding proposal for state parks hits roadblock: 1 legislator

[Source: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services, 3-8-2010] — A single legislator is blocking a plan to ask voters to permanently fund the state parks system with a surcharge on vehicle license fees.  Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, refuses to schedule a hearing on HCR 2040 in the Appropriations Committee, which he chairs, and will not agree to have the measure withdrawn from his committee.  That effectively keeps the plan from going to the full House, where Rep. Russ Jones, R-Yuma, said he has the votes for approval.

The parks system is being stymied on two fronts in its efforts to minimize closures.  A second bill, HB 2060, would provide a $40 million loan over the next two years to the parks.  But it is stalled because it needs a supermajority — 45 of 60 House votes and 23 of 30 Senate votes — because the money would come from the Growing Smarter fund, approved by voters more than a decade ago to buy or lease state trust land for open space. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Viewpoint: Let us vote on plan to save state parks

[Source: Arizona Republic editorial board] — A ballot measure to save our state parks has stalled in the Legislature.   The park system is on the verge of financial collapse.  The system is so cash-strapped that iconic places are closing, from Tombstone Courthouse to Picacho Peak.  How smart is that for a state that relies on tourism?  It doesn’t have to happen.

HCR 2040 would let voters decide whether to create a steady source of funding by raising vehicle-registration fees by $9 a year.  (An additional $3 would pay for rest areas and be used for other transportation purposes.)  In return, Arizona-registered vehicles would get free entry to all state parks.  And private enterprises would still have ample opportunity to develop and operate marinas, campgrounds and other services.

States like Montana and Washington have already adopted this common-sense system. The proposal passed out of the Natural Resources and Rural Affairs Committee.  But it’s inexplicably stuck in Appropriations.  If Chairman John Kavanagh won’t put it on the agenda, he should let it move along to a floor vote.  Voters should get a chance to ensure the future of our parks.

Gov. Jan Brewer and lawmakers should avoid unnecessary damage in the short term. They’re considering a budget proposal that would create an immediate crisis, draining what little money remains for the parks to run on.  This defies logic.  State leaders talk a lot about making Arizona more competitive.  Our parks are unique recreational and economic assets, especially for the rural communities.  Let’s capitalize on those strengths.