Arizona lawmakers, businesses, residents to rally for state parks

[Source: Jimena Martinez,, 2/21/2012] – Arizona lawmakers, businesses, and residents will get the opportunity to rally for the 30 state parks and Natural Areas in the state.The Arizona State Parks Foundation is hosting Arizona State Parks Advocacy Day 2012 at the state capitol lawn Tuesday.

A newly-formed statewide coalition of business and environmental organizations will also rally forHB2362, which is a bipartisan bill that would protect state park revenues from legislative budget sweeps. The bill was introduced by Representative Karen Fann, R-Prescott.

The group has acknowledged that the legislation doesn’t provide a permanent solution for the financial problems facing state parks, but says it’s committed to identifying and securing a dedicated funding source for state parks. Just this month, it was announced that no state parks will be closing for the first time in two years as a result of state budget cuts.

Editorial: A call to shield state showcases

[Source: The Arizona Republic]

A business would go belly up if someone diverted a big chunk of its revenue.

So the Senate’s proposed raid on Arizona State Parks is just baffling.

These are the places that showcase the magic of Arizona, from Slide Rock to Kartchner Caverns to Picacho Peak. And they’ve been slammed by budget cutbacks.

In fact, the general fund doesn’t put a single penny into the state park system any more.

So the parks increasingly rely on the income they can generate through fees and retail sales. Next fiscal year, which begins July 1, they expect to raise $10 million.

But the Senate passed a budget that would swipe $2 million of park income. Those dollars come directly from visitors, who assume that their fees are supporting the continued survival of the places they enjoy.

The 20 percent hit would severely undercut the partnerships that helped reopen parks that had to be shuttered last year. Local governments and groups are lending a hand at historic sites like Fort Verde, Tombstone Courthouse and Yuma Prison. They’re keeping the gates open at recreational playgrounds, such as Tonto Natural Bridge, Lost Dutchman and Alamo Lake. These are important attractions in areas that depend heavily on tourism.

It gets worse. The Senate-adopted budget would also siphon off $1.5 million that the parks get from the lake-improvement fund, which comes from watercraft fees and fuel taxes.

Legislators often say that government should operate more like a business. Well, the parks are following a business model.

But the Senate’s model is closer to piracy.

The state-park system has had $72 million in cuts over the past three years. Its entire operating budget, covering everything from law enforcement to toilet paper, is now $19 million.

Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget recognizes that the parks’ survival is on the line. It has no further cuts or diversions.

Unfortunately, the potential damage doesn’t end at the budget.

The Senate would require the State Parks Board, which oversees the system, to issue a request for proposals for the private operation of some or all state parks. It would have to contract out the management of at least two state parks (a profitable one bundled with an unprofitable one) by Feb. 1, 2012.

Expanding private enterprise within the parks is a smart idea. This is just a poorly conceived way to do it.

The Senate bill has no provisions for private operators interested in one or two concessions in a park. It sets out no criteria for responsible operations, no protections for these valuable publicly owned assets and no financial standards. The deadline could force the state to accept a very bad deal.

Last year, the Arizona State Parks Foundation commissioned a study that gave a detailed analysis of the opportunities and limitations of privatization, which could involve either businesses or non-profit groups. The ideas ranged from cafes to lattice-framed yurts.

The study also proposed creating a quasi-governmental agency to oversee the parks.

These are valuable places, even for Arizonans who never set foot in them. In 2007, a study estimated, the economic impact of state parks was $266 million.

A financially stable state-park system, with the resources to expand the recreational opportunities for visitors (imagine a zip line at Slide Rock), would strengthen Arizona’s allure as a tourist destination.

The Legislature should not undermine it with budget cuts and hasty privatization mandates.

Study outlines options for state park funding

[Source: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services 10-22-2009] – The state park system needs an infusion of outside cash, possibly from a surcharge on vehicle license taxes, to keep it from collapsing, according to a new report.  The study, done for the Arizona Parks Foundation by the Morrison Institute at Arizona State University concludes that the revenues collected from users is insufficient to properly maintain and operate the parks, much less acquire new properties. And the supplement the system used to get in state tax dollars from the Legislature has all but dried up as lawmakers divert the dollars for other priorities.

So the report suggests a host of other ways to raise the $40 million a year that Parks Director Renee Bahl said is probably necessary not just to keep the gates open at the existing parks but to also catch up on overdue maintenance and put some money aside for future purchases [to read this full article click here].

Sprouts raises $100,000 for western state parks

In honor of Earth Day, Sprouts Famers Market raised $100,000 in their “Stand Up for State Parks” program for state parks in Arizona, Texas, California, and Colorado.  The state parks are being threatened by budget and staffing cuts.

Customers donated in $1, $2 or $5 increments from April 8 through Earth Day, April 22nd.  COO Doug Sanders donated additional funds to bring the grand total to $100,000.  “Our employees and customers have taken to this campaign with such enthusiasm, the results have been more than projected.  In honor of the tremendous passion given to the project, I have made a donation on behalf of Sprouts employees to raise the amount to $100,000,” said Sanders.

The 15 stores in Arizona raised $47,689 for the Arizona State Park Foundation (average $3,179 per store), the seven stores in Texas raised $24,335 for the Park and Wildlife Foundation ($3,476 per store), California’s seven stores raised $20,937 for the State Park Foundation ($2,991 per store), and the two stores in Colorado raised $7,101 ($3,550 per store).

Sprouts Farmers Market specializes in farm-fresh produce, purchased from local growers when possible. Sprouts also offers a large selection of vitamins and supplements, all natural meats, fresh seafood, bins full of bulk foods, an extensive selection of natural and organic grocery items, rBST free milk, imported cheeses, deli meats and more.