Viewpoint: Arizona State Parks robbing Peter to pay Paul

[Source: Camp Verde Bugle] — Talk about bittersweet.  In rather twisted fashion, the Sullivan Hotel’s loss is Fort Verde’s gain.  A temporary stay of execution was issued to such Arizona properties as Fort Verde State Historic Park and Red Rock State Park.  At Friday’s meeting of the State Parks Board, Director Ken Travous announced that by cutting and suspending Heritage Grants, as well as other cost-cutting measures, the agency was able to make up $5 million in its decimated budget.  That meant not closing an additional eight parks, at least until July.  But this was robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Ask Mary Wills and Sally Dryer about being “robbed.”  After being approved for a $150,000 Heritage grant to sustain the old Sullivan Hotel in Jerome, taking out loans and mortgaging a house, the women were told in February that State Parks was canceling the grant.  It damaged Wills and Dryer financially, the last thing the state should be doing.

What the move may have saved State Parks in money has cost it in respect and reputation around here.  The board also went down the path of supporting a controversial House bill that will allow the state to take funds meant for land preservation and use it for the State Parks budget.  That smacks of underhandedness. Reneging on a promise, which is essentially what the Heritage Grant was, and going directly against voter intentions to snag more money are bad ideas.

Yes, the Legislature cut $36 million from State Parks’ budget.  And yes, come July, it may cut another $12 million.  It’s painful, possibly fatal for some parks. But limiting park hours or completely shuttering more would be preferable ethically to shifty moves that make anyone question State Parks’ honesty. While it was nice to hear, on the eve of the History of the Soldier event, that Fort Verde and other parks were temporarily spared being shuttered, it’s bittersweet to know such parks are staying open at such a cost.

Viewpoint: Arizona state legislature’s grab of open-space funds violates constitution

[Source: Editorial Board, Tucson Citizen] –Taking millions from a voter-approved land conservation fund does not ‘further the purpose’ of the fund.  The Arizona Legislature won’t let a trifling thing like the state constitution stand in the way of its efforts to patch budget holes. The Arizona House has given preliminary approval to steal-from-Peter-to-pay-Paul legislation that would take money from a constitutionally protected open-space fund to help keep state parks open.  It is a shrewd move that has divided environmentalists who have been critical of the Legislature’s attacks on state parks.  But it clearly runs counter to the constitution — a far bigger obstacle.

To help balance the hemorrhaging budget, the Legislature slashed spending by the state Parks Department. That forced three closures — McFarland and Jerome historic parks and Tonto Natural Bridge — and threatened closure of eight others.  After protests, legislators came up with a “solution” in HB 2088: Take $20 million from a fund for land conservation and give about half to the Arizona State Parks Board.  The other half would be distributed to the Land, Commerce, and Water Resources departments.  That molified parks supporters, but there is a bigger problem: The land conservation fund was established by voters.

The state constitution says legislators can alter voter-approved measures only with a three-quarters vote of both houses and only if the action “furthers the purpose” of the initiative.  The three-quarters threshold is iffy. But there is no way that taking money from the fund “furthers the purpose” of land conservation.  The fund was established in 1998 as part of voter-approved conservation measures and provides grants for land purchases by local governments.  Legislators say they will only “borrow” the money and repay it when they are able.  That’s not good enough.  The fund was set up to buy and preserve land, not as a revolving loan fund for legislators’ use.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, called the move “a very, very cynical move by some in the majority to try to pit conservation interests against each other to weaken, undercut and get around the voter-protection act and not take responsibility for the terrible budget they passed.”  We agree.

In 1998 — the same year voters established the conservation fund — they also approved the Voter Protection Act, which protects citizen initiatives.  Voters acted after the Legislature frequently undercut, repealed and diverted dollars from voter-approved measures.  This move shows why such a measure was so needed.  We urge legislators to reject HB 2088.  It is wrong, unfair, and unconstitutional.  [Note: To read the viewer comments, click here.]