Bring back the state parks Heritage Fund

[Source: William C Thornton, Arizona Republic Opinion] – As negotiations continue between Gov. Jan Brewer and legislative leaders, questions remain about what will or will not be included in the new budget. One thing is certain. The budget will not contain a dime of new funding for State Parks nor will it restore the parks Heritage Fund.

The people of Arizona are the big losers.

Enacted by voters in 1990, the Heritage Fund directed $20 million in Lottery money to be divided equally each year between State Parks and the Department of Game and Fish. The $10 million for parks often served as seed money for matching grants. The total yearly impact was typically $20 million or more.

Heritage Fund grants developed new parks, and built and improved trails, campgrounds, picnic facilities, boat docks and ramps. Historic restoration grants helped preserve important parts of our rich cultural heritage such as the Riordan Mansion in Flagstaff, the Tombstone Courthouse, Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson and the historic Yuma Crossing.

If you hunt, fish, hike, camp, boat, picnic or share my love of Arizona history, the parks Heritage Fund benefited you.

Even if you’ve never visited a state park or historic site. you’ve benefited from the Heritage Fund-fueled economic engine that brings dollars and supports jobs. A 2007 study estimated that 224 jobs were directly supported by parks Heritage Fund grants.

State parks and historic sites attract more than 2 million visitors, about half from out of state, who add $266 million to our state’s economy each year. These visitors support an additional 3,000 jobs, mostly in rural areas heavily impacted by the economic downturn.

In response to the economic downturn and a decline in tax revenue, the Legislature swept the state parks allocation into the general fund in 2010 and, inexplicably, eliminated the fund in July 2010.

Thanks to former Rep. Russ Jones and Rep. Ethan Orr, bills to restore the parks Heritage Fund were introduced in three consecutive legislative sessions. In each case the bill was voted out of committee with unanimous bipartisan support only to die in the House Appropriations Committee.

If Arizona legislators and business leaders are serious about attracting companies such as Tesla Motors, they may want to think about the message we send when we fail to invest in our parks. Low taxes aren’t the only consideration when companies decide where to locate a new facility. Outdoor recreational opportunities consistently rank near the top of quality of life issues that attract high-paying jobs, and our parks play a major role.

As the legislative session winds down, House Speaker Andy Tobin’s proposed monument to the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire seems certain to pass. It should.

The question of how to pay the estimated $500,000 cost must be addressed. A restored parks Heritage Fund could have been the solution. Let’s bring it back.

William C. Thornton is a second-generation Arizonan and member of the Arizona Heritage Alliance Board.

Story Highlights

  • The Heritage Fund provided $10 million to state parks until the Legislature eliminated the program
  • The fund supports the sort of quality of life that helps attract high-paying jobs
  • The Legislature should restore the fund

Cities and towns are vital to Arizona’s economic recovery

[Source: Arizona Capitol, Guest Opinion, 2/10/12] – While Arizona has endured one of longest and deepest recessions in American history, the League of Arizona Cities and Towns has stepped forward to be a strong partner with Gov. Jan Brewer and state lawmakers as they sought solutions to reverse our fiscal crisis. Arizona’s 91 cities and towns cut their spending by nearly 30 percent on average. We have responded to this crisis by doing more with less.

Now that our state’s economy is starting to emerge and grow again, cities, large and small, will be absolutely vital to Arizona’s economic recovery and future prosperity. From Tucson to Phoenix to rural towns like Clarkdale — where I’m proud to serve as mayor — Arizona cities and towns have provided healthy economic environments that generate 93 percent of all state sales tax revenues. That business-friendly climate helps drive Arizona forward.

Those dollars enable families to enjoy the most efficient and directly accessible services provided by government — like police and fire protection, safe roads, clean water, parks, senior centers, pools and reliable garbage collection. It sounds like a cliché, but only because it’s true — healthy cities make a healthy Arizona.

The good news is our cities and towns are well positioned to do the heavy lifting. Our state, especially in rural Arizona, is open for business and creating jobs. But we must be careful not to impede our recovery by limiting local control or hurting the quality of life that makes Arizona so attractive to entrepreneurs. Local elected leaders stand on the front lines of business recruitment efforts, and they help create the healthy and profitable business environments that attract new employers. For example, if you search for “Payson economic development” on the Internet, you are directed to the town’s website.

I am excited that both House Speaker Andy Tobin and Senate President Steve Pierce represent rural Arizona. I trust they understand, like I do, that imposing unfunded mandates only hurt our ability to attract and retain high quality jobs. In fact, unnecessary mandates only make us spend taxpayer money on things that don’t benefit the public’s quality of life. The best decisions are the ones made at the local level in response to residents and taxpayers. We deliver the daily services that people count on every day.

Since 1937, the League of Arizona Cities and Towns has stood for the principle that local government is the most efficient, most responsive and most economical way to provide services to our residents. We have never wavered from those principles in good times or bad.

So, as the Legislature goes back to work, the League of Arizona Cities and Towns once again stands ready to partner with our state lawmakers to preserve and protect what matters most to residents in our cities and towns. If we work together, I’m confident we can make this happen.

— Doug Von Gausig is mayor of Clarkdale and president of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.

Support growing to save Arizona’s state parks

[Source: Verde Independent, Steve Ayers 2-2-2010] — About 40 supporters from the Verde Valley, joined by at least 150 more from around the state, converged on the state capitol Monday urging lawmakers to find a way to keep the Arizona State Park system operating. It was just one of many campaigns organized recently to get the Legislature’s attention and voice opposition to their repeated raids on the agency’s budget.

Not all that long ago the park system had a $30 million budget that funded operations, maintenance and capital improvements to a system of 30 parks and conservation areas.  But after two huge cuts by the Legislature, the budget has been cut to $9 million, forcing the closure of all but nine parks by the end of this fiscal year.  The citizen-initiated campaigns, however, are beginning to have an effect. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Arizona House advances state parks funding measure

[Source: Tucson Citizen/Associated Press] — Taking a path that critics said would put lawmakers on legally shaky ground, the Arizona House of Representatives on Thursday gave preliminary approval to a plan to keep threatened state parks open by diverting money from a voter-mandated program for land conservation for open space.  The measure aims to reverse recent state budget cuts that have put numerous state parks at risk of closure.  It has backing from parks advocates but is opposed by the Sierra Club, a lobbying group for environmentalists.  Because it would modify a voter-approved law, the Arizona Constitution requires that the measure both be approved by three-quarters of each legislative chamber and further the intent of the voter-approved law.

The land conservation fund, which provides grants for land purchases by local governments, was authorized under a growth-planning law approved by voters in 1998.  With Thursday’s voice vote, the Republican-backed measure faces an expected formal House vote next week.  Passage would send it to the Senate.  However, passage by the 60-member House is not assured as Democratic leaders criticized the measure during debate Thursday.  Even if all 35 majority Republican representatives vote for the bill (HB2088), a three-quarters vote would require backing from at least 10 of the 25 Democrats.

The legislation would return the $20 million to the land conservation fund in 2012, and supporters of the bill said the state money won’t be missed in the meantime because current economic hard times mean local governments can’t afford their shares of the cost of land purchases.  “We have a great opportunity, instead of putting money aside in a fund that we cannot use,” said Rep. Andy Tobin, R-Paulden.

Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said he supports keeping parks open but not by tampering with a voter-approved law.  “We see this bill as being illegal and not furthering the intent of the voters,” Campbell said.

The Parks Department has already closed three parks — McFarland Historic, Jerome Historic and Tonto Natural Bridge — but eight others are also listed as candidates for temporary closure because of the funding cuts made to close a big shortfall in the current state budget.  The eight are Fort Verde, Homolovi, Lyman Lake, Oracle, Red Rock, Riordan Mansion, Tubac Presidio, Yuma Quartermaster Depot.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]