[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.