Lawmaker: Funding state parks improvements now saves costs later

[Source: Donyelle Kesler, Cronkite News] – Delaying capital improvements needed after years of deep budget cuts to Arizona State Parks will only exacerbate the problems and increase future costs, a state lawmaker said Wednesday. “If you don’t take care of your infrastructure, it’s like not taking care of your house and if you let that little $2 item go and don’t fix it, you end up with a $100 repair bill,” said Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott.

Fann, whose district includes five state parks, said Arizona has been doing roughly the same thing with its parks for too long. “Not only are we behind the curve on fixing what should have been fixed years ago, but now we have additional problems on top of them,” she said. Bryan Martyn, director of Arizona State Parks, is requesting $15.5 million in Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget for capital improvements. Arizona State Parks hasn’t received money from the state’s general fund since 2009 and currently works off a $19.5 million budget. Officials say state parks have about $200 million in capital needs.

Fann, who pushed successfully last year to allow Arizona State Parks to keep all gate and concession fees, said that parks are vital to the state’s economy. “It is responsible for over 3,000 direct jobs, it is responsible for over $2 million worth of revenue, and so state parks is really something we need to keep open,” Fann said. “This isn’t a feel-good item, this is about our economy. The feel-good and the beauty and all that stuff, that’s just the icing on the cake.”

Cuts to the Arizona State Parks budget led to agreements allowing some communities to take over operations and keep parks operating. Arizona State Parks Board Chairman Tracy Westerhausen said the $15.5 million would be an investment. “It serves the people who come from outside of Arizona to see our parks and enriches the lives of the people who are here already,” she said. Westerhausen said the projects include improving water-treatment systems and electrification of campsites. “We’re under a state mandate to provide clean water to people who come to our parks, and one of the things we can’t do is improve our water structure in the parks,” she said.

Matthew Benson, a spokesman for the governor, said Brewer has taken Martyn’s request into account along with all of the proposals from other state agencies. “Of course state parks are a priority, but so is public safety, classroom education, road and transportation systems, Child Protective Services – all of these issues are important,” Benson said.

Grady Gammage Jr., who as a senior research fellow for Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy co-wrote a 2009 report on ways to fund state parks said the facilities are assets to both the state’s economy and residents. Image

“Part of reason people want to live in Arizona is because of the open space and natural resources of parks and it can have a lot to do with what makes the state attractive to businesses and people moving here,” Gammage said. “If you don’t support that, you risk a lot more than just damaging the parks, you risk damaging this economic engine that drives Arizona.”

New report measures key indicators for state

Arizona Directions 2012 measures areas of strengths and weakness for Arizona in terms of quality of life, sustainability and economic vitality. The 44-page, all-color publication was debuted last week at the State of Our State Conference, a half-day event hosted by Morrison Institute for Public Policy. Using polls, charts and graphics, Arizona Directions 2012 is intended to visually present various snapshots of key metrics — job creation, education, health and infrastructure — for a more complete portrait of Arizona. Everything from airport activity to high-school graduation rates to water use to diabetes and smoking are highlighted in this now-annual report produced by Arizona Indicators, an online data project managed by Morrison Institute.

VIDEO: Grady Gammage Jr.: ‘So, what’s the deal with Arizona?’

“So, what’s the deal with Arizona?” We’ve all been asked that question, given the non-stop twists and turns of this 48th state in recent years that have left many observers around the nation scratching their head. Senior Fellow Grady Gammage Jr. offered his unique take on this question at last week’s State of Our State Conference, hosted by Morrison Institute for Public Policy. His remarks were meet with a standing ovation. We invite your to enjoy video of Gammage’s keynote speech. And in future weeks, other presentations and panels from the half-day conference will be posted on the Morrison Institute website, including: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; Phoenix Mayor-elect Greg Stanton; Mesa Mayor Scott Smith; Austin, Texas, high-tech economic leader Pike Powers; ASU economist Dennis Hoffman; and many others.

Taking state parks totally private a bad idea—Grady Gammage Jr.

[Source: Grady Gammage Jr.,  Special for the Arizona Republic]

If you only caught the recent news headline, “Arizona state parks system would run better privately, study says” (Valley & State, Jan. 12), you might quickly surmise we should privatize state parks like we’re doing with prisons.

Not so fast. The headline does not reflect the full content or context of the story. Nor does it reflect what the cited report or prior studies examining Arizona state parks truly recommend when it comes to privatization.

In fall 2009, Morrison Institute for Public Policy issued “The Price of Stewardship: The Future of Arizona’s State Parks.” The report looked at the parks system and the agency that runs the parks, and examined what it would take to create a sustainable future.

One of the primary findings was that the park system had been starved by the Legislature, including of money parks take in, leaving it totally at the mercy of general-fund appropriations.

In 2010 the general-fund appropriation for parks was zero. That’s not a typo.

A task force appointed by Gov. Jan Brewer reviewed the report’s cost-saving and revenue-producing options, and made recommendations – including a combination of local partnerships, increased concessionaire use and a modest surcharge on license plates that would give Arizona residents automatic access to the parks.

Both the task force and Morrison Institute report recognized there are inherently public functions connected to parks, such as educational programs, that deserve and require public financial support to survive.

Unfortunately, as the task force reviewed the “big picture” of state parks, Arizona’s budget crisis deepened. Its recommendations went nowhere, lost in the tide of red ink that overwhelms our state.

In reacting to the report and the task-force recommendations, some commentators and lawmakers seized on the concept of “privatization” as the silver bullet for dealing with the parks system, rather than as a component of a more comprehensive solution.

A subsequent report, “The Arizona State Park Privatization and Efficiency Plan,” issued in December by the Arizona State Parks Foundation and conducted by private-consulting firm PROS Consulting, examines specifically the potential for privatization. Some key points:

  • Even in the downturn, Arizona’s state parks represent a tremendous return on investment. The PROS study estimates $223 million in economic benefit to the state in 2010.
  • There is potential for much greater private-sector involvement in managing the parks, primarily in the area of concessions, maintenance and recreational use. And there is potential for local partnerships, reinforcing a task-force finding.
  • Private management of public assets requires serious oversight by the public; privatization does not mean the state can escape all effort and cost.
  • Arizona should give serious consideration to the creation of a quasi-governmental agency to manage the park system. This is similar to what the state is doing with economic development, through the creation of the Arizona Commerce Authority.

Both the Morrison Institute report and the PROS report highlight the real tragedy of our parks system: Arizona State Parks has not been given a fair chance to prove itself. While we say we want it to operate more like an enterprise, since 2003, through various mechanisms, the Legislature has “swept” away portions – or all – of what Arizona State Parks has earned.

No private operator could run a business if its operating income was taken away. It is unfair to Arizona State Parks to expect it to do so. Perhaps a quasi-governmental structure could restore sanity to this equation and save our parks.

Attorney, land-use expert and educator Grady Gammage Jr. is a senior research fellow at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy.