Celebrate Arizona’s Centennial Through Conservation!

More than 100 Conservation Advocates Meet with State Legislators for Environmental Day at the Capitol.

January 31, 2012, Phoenix, AZToday at the Arizona State Capitol, more than 100 people from 25 different legislative districts and representing more than 20 groups met with their state legislators in support of environmental protection and conservation programs.

Volunteer advocates asked legislators to support adequate funding for State Parks and to specifically support legislation sponsored by Representative Karen Fann (R-1) that allows parks to keep revenue generated from the parks to support the park system.

“Our state parks deserve to be open, public, and keep the money they earn at the gate from visitors, said Bret Fanshaw with Environment Arizona.  “We hope the legislature will pass Representative Fann’s bill in good faith that state parks will be protected in this year’s budget and into the future.”

Conservation of state trust lands has long been a key priority for most Arizona conservation groups. While there is no comprehensive measure on the table to do that, advocates asked legislators to support conserving state trust lands and to support the bills being promoted by Senator John Nelson (R-10) to facilitate limited and transparent land exchanges for better management of state trust lands and public lands. They asked the legislators to refrain from trying to swipe the last of the Land Conservation Fund, a voter-protected fund that supports conservation of state trust lands and for which voters again expressed support on the 2010 ballot.

“We need to preserve certain state trust lands to save their natural resources, open spaces, wildlife habitat, and historic/geologic features so that our communities now and in the future have those treasures,” said Ann Hutchinson, Executive Vice President, North Country Conservancy – Daisy Mountain Preservation Effort. “The values go way beyond the obvious beauty of the land and the opportunities to recreate. The preserved open spaces have economic value. Businesses and residents look to preserves and parks to raise and maintain a high quality of life. Homes and land surrounding parks and preserves have higher value.”

Keeping funding for the Arizona Water Protection Fund was also a key issue for many advocates. The Arizona Water Protection Fund is the only dedicated funding source to protect and restore riparian habitats in Arizona. In 2011, the Legislature voted to permanently eliminate the general fund appropriation for the program.

Also on the priority list for advocates was a measure sponsored by Representative Steve Farley (D-28) that reinstates both the Heritage Fund and the Local Transportation Assistance Fund, which helps to fund transit. Prior to the Legislature’s elimination of the State Parks Heritage Fund as part of the FY2011 budget, these dollars helped fund natural areas, historic preservation, and local and regional park programs.

“An additional measure, HCR 2047, sponsored by Representative Russ Jones, is a referral to the voters for the 2012 election and would restore the language and funding of the Parks’ side of the Heritage Fund,” said Janice Miano, Director of the Arizona Heritage Alliance. “With the success of either measure, the voters’ Heritage Fund would once again be whole and functioning, providing countless jobs, community pride, and potential for increased tourism to both city and rural areas.”

Group leaders expressed concerns about the plethora of anti-environmental legislation, much of it aimed at ignoring or weakening federal environmental laws and land protections. Among them are bills that seek to control national forests and other public lands, measures whose intent is to assert total control of air and water and thus ignore the provisions of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts.

“We need our state legislature and governor to step up to strengthen Arizona’s environmental protection laws, rather than seek to ignore or weaken the safety nets for clean air and clean water, as well as our endangered plants and animals,” said Sandy Bahr, Chapter Director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “Without the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act, there would be few, if any, protections for these important resources.”

Rural lawmaker seeks halt to state sweeping Arizona State Parks revenues

[Source: Jessica Testa, Cronkite News Service, 1/18/2012]– Arizona State Parks would be able to protect the revenue it raises from budget sweeps and use it for park operations under legislation proposed by a rural lawmaker. Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, whose district is home to five state parks, said it was “penny wise and pound foolish” for the Legislature to cut the agency’s funding so drastically over the past few years. “Our state parks contribute to jobs and economic development. Especially in rural areas, they’re the ones bringing in business to local restaurants and hotels,” said Fann, the author of HB 2362.

The bill would create a fund allowing Arizona State Parks to keep all of the money generated from gate fees, concession fees, souvenir sales and all unconditional gifts and donations not specified for particular projects. The money would go toward operation and maintenance costs for the entire parks system. The state wouldn’t be able to pull money from the agency to help balance its budget, as it has done in the past, Fann said. “We’re asking the Legislature that we make sure, from here on out, that we don’t touch their fund,” she said. “Hands off this one. No sweeps of this one.”

The fund would not only protect park budgets but also ensure that Arizona State Parks is following rules set by the federal Bureau of Land Management, said Arizona State Parks Assistant Director Jay Ziemann. Many of the state’s larger parks sit on land that the federal government has transferred to the state at little to no cost as part of the Recreation and Public Purposes Act. These parks have entered into various financial partnerships with private entities, such as concession companies, Ziemann said.

The Bureau of Land Management requires that all money generated by these parks be reinvested into the parks, not transferred to the state. Without the protection of the parks’ funds, the public-private partnerships would also not be eligible for renewal.

Arizona State Parks hasn’t received money from the state’s general fund since 2009. Meanwhile, more than $15 million has been swept from the agency’s revenues, Ziemann said. “The Legislature directed the Arizona State Parks Board to act like a business, to go out and survive on their revenues,” Ziemann said. “Since then, they’ve essentially stolen money out of the till.”

Fann said her district’s parks brought in more than 500,000 tourists and $1.8 million last year, supporting 916 jobs. “It could have been much worse, if not for the municipalities who stepped up to the plate and contributed a little money from their funds to help minimize the impact of the sweeps,” Fann said.

Rep. Russ Jones, R-Yuma, one of the nine primary sponsors of HB 2362, said that though partnerships with companies have helped raise park revenues, the state’s parks should not become “private retail venues.”

“Every one of our parks is a jewel and we should take pride in how they look and how they function,” Jones said.

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.]