State historian urges Arizonans to rally for state parks

[Source: Bob Boze, True West, 1-28-2010] — Yesterday we met with Marshall Trimble here at the True West offices about doing something regarding the state of Arizona closing numerous parks, including the Tombstone Courthouse.  Here is what Marshall came up with:

ARIZONA HERITAGE FUND AND STATE PARKS. Everyone knows these are tough times and I don’t know anybody who hasn’t been hurt by it, but do we have to sacrifice our heritage and crown jewels?

I call on people everywhere to rally around the cause.  Let Arizona be the focal point.  I say this not because I’m an Arizonan.  To paraphrase my idol Will Rogers, “I never met a state I didn’t like,” but Arizona is unique.  The Spanish called it the “Northern Mystery.”  When the Army of the West crossed in the 1840s they were accompanied by scientists who made the first studies of the geology, flora, and fauna.  The scientific community in America and the Europe waited anxiously to see their reports.  Today, the biotic life in Arizona is the most diverse in the United States and scientists still come from afar to study here. [Note: To read the full blog entry, click here.]

Havens of nature, Arizona’s history fall to cuts

[Source: Arizona Daily Star, Doug Kreutz, 1-24-2010] — Wildflower lovers might want to plan a farewell visit to Picacho Peak State Park this spring — even if it’s not a banner year for blooms.  The park, a mecca for fans of wildflower color, is scheduled to close June 3 — and officials don’t know.  “Voting to close these parks was one of the hardest moments of my life,” said Reese Woodling, a Tucson resident and chairman of the Arizona State Parks Board.  “I love Arizona and I love our parks.  To see this happening just makes me sick to my stomach.”  When, or if, it will reopen.

Picacho Peak, about 40 miles northwest of Tucson, is one of 13 state parks slated for closure in a phased sequence from Feb. 22 to June 3.  Other Southern Arizona parks closing their gates are Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, Roper Lake State Park, and Lost Dutchman State Park.  The reason: a budget shortfall of $8.6 million.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Viewpoint: Arizona Legislature raids legacy of dead woman

[Source: Arizona Republic editorial board] — Stealing a dead woman’s legacy — that’s how far the Legislature has gone in its raid on funding for Arizona State Parks.  Our parks system has taken a wildly disproportionate hit in state budget-balancing efforts.  It has been years since the state itself put any money into the parks.  Now, lawmakers are draining virtually every other source of revenue.

Including $250,000 bequeathed by Asta Forrest, a Danish immigrant and Fountain Hills resident.  She gave the money with no strings attached (big mistake, as it turns out), just because she loved Arizona State Parks.  Forrest must have seen how state parks offer the best of Arizona for entertainment and education.  From Lake Havasu to Kartchner Caverns to Picacho Peak to the Tombstone Courthouse, there are places for boating, hiking, fishing, birding, swimming, sightseeing, and exploring.  In a tourism-oriented state, these are economic assets as well as part of our quality of life.

Yet in December, lawmakers siphoned so much out of state-park accounts, including money from entrance fees, that the very existence of the system is at stake.  That $8.6 million raid filled just a speck of this year’s $1.5 billion state budget hole.  On Jan. 15, the State Parks Board will weigh what parks to close — with the risk of going into a death spiral of falling entrance fees that force more and more closures.  It’s time to consider a task force’s proposal to fund parks with an optional $15 vehicle-registration surcharge.

In this crisis, every state agency must endure painful cuts.  But not gutting.  [Note: To read the full editorial online, visit Viewpoint: Arizona Legislature raids legacy of dead woman.]

House kills measure that would re-open Arizona state parks on full-time basis

Arizona State House of Representatives (Phoenix, Arizona) by courthouselover.
Arizona House of Representatives (Photo source: courthouselover, Flickr)

[Source: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services] — The state House lawmakers killed legislation Tuesday that would have provided money to reopen state parks on a full-time basis. A total of 36 legislators voted for the measure that would have taken $20 million from a special account designed to deal with urban sprawl and given some of that to the state Parks Board to compensate for cuts in the agency’s budget made by lawmakers in January.   But HB 2088 needed 45 votes because the fund was created by voters in 1998.  And the Arizona Constitution requires a three-fourths margin of the 60-member House — and the 30-member Senate — to alter what voters have approved.

Deputy Parks Director Jay Zieman said Tuesday’s action means five parks will remain closed two days a week to save money. It also delays the reopening of three other parks that were shuttered entirely, at least in part to cut costs.   The defeat came when every House Democrat except one refused to support the measure.

Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said he was sympathetic to the needs of the Parks Department.  But he questioned the legality of the move.  He pointed out that the constitution forbids lawmakers from tinkering with any program approved by voters. He said the only exception, even with a three-fourths margin, is when a change “furthers the purpose’ of the underlying measure.  In this case, he said voters approved providing $20 million a year for 11 years to help purchase or lease state trust lands in urban areas to keep them out of the hands of developers.  Funding the operation of parks, said Campbell, does not do that.  He also said raiding voter-approved funds sets a “bad precedent.”

None of that placated Zieman.  “We expect to have $98 million in that fund at the end of the fiscal year,’ he said.  “It is maddening to be in a position where you’re closing parks’ because 30 percent of the staff has been let go.

The state has closed Tonto, McFarland and Jerome state parks, though some of the reason they were chosen because of work that needs to be done at each site.  What was not anticipated was the need to go to a five-day-a-week schedule at six other parks: Fort Verde, Oracle, Tombstone Courthouse, Tubac Presidio, Yuma Territorial Prison, and the Yuma Quartermaster Depot.  The state is saving money by chaining them closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Aside from the closures and reduced schedules, Zieman said his agency also has suspended funding grants, even in cases where groups had been given the go-ahead and work had been started.

Rep. Warde Nichols, R-Gilbert, who crafted the legislation, said the move made sense not to tap the funds which “are doing absolutely nothing for our state right now.”  One reason there is so much money in the account because the 1998 law requires that taxpayer funds be matched by other sources, whether public or private.  Those matching funds have not materialized. Beyond that, Nichols said the economy has slowed development to the point where builders are not buying up large swaths of state land.  And Nichols said the funding is just a loan: The legislation would have required the state to put back the $20 million in the future.

But Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said that payback is not guaranteed, as future lawmakers could simply vote to ignore the mandate. [Note: To read the full article, click here.  To read the Camp Verde Bugle’s editorial on this subject, click here.]