Legislature’s neglect of state park system harms Arizona’s economy

[Source: William C. Thornton, Special for the Arizona Daily Star] –Preliminary recommendations by the Governor’s Commission on Privatization and Efficiency (“Arizona urged to privatize its parks,” Sept. 22) come as no surprise to those of us who have been on the front lines of the battle to save Arizona’s state parks.

For the rest of us, it should serve as a wake-up call of what’s at stake if a lack of vision and political will is allowed to destroy our state park system. Conveniently, the final proposal won’t be released until after the fall elections; but it’s difficult to envision any park privatization scenario under which Arizona citizens and taxpayers won’t be the big losers.

In comments posted to the Star’s website, one writer asked: “What’s wrong with somebody earning a profit?” The answer: absolutely nothing, and that’s just the point. Hundreds of businesses throughout our state earn profits by supplying park visitors with gas, groceries, supplies, lodging and meals. A 2009 study by Northern Arizona University estimated the total economic impact of our state parks at $266 million per year, about half from out-of-state visitors. When a local park closes, as has already happened at Winslow (Homolovi), Springerville (Lyman Lake), and Oracle, visitors and the dollars they spend go away.

You may ask: “Won’t they do just as well under private management?” The answer: Not likely! Private operators will, no doubt, be eager to take over profitable parks such as Catalina, Kartchner Caverns and the Colorado River parks. They probably won’t show much interest in smaller parks that, in themselves, aren’t profitable but still support local jobs [to read the full article click here].

Napolitano pleads with lawmakers to spare services

[Source: Matthew Benson, The Arizona Republic] – – Gov. Janet Napolitano pleaded with lawmakers to spare critical state services in closing a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall, urging them to make “short-term decisions that do not dim the bright future of this remarkable state.”  The call came Monday afternoon as part of the State of the State address, her seventh and almost certainly final as governor. The speech served as a kickoff for the regular session of the 49th Legislature. It also marked an end of sorts for Napolitano.  The Democrat leaves Tuesday for Washington, D.C., and is expected to resign the governorship following her confirmation as secretary of Homeland Security next week.

As expected, her annual address to a packed chamber in the House of Representatives was abbreviated – about half as long as typical. But it still included several key proposals that she asked lawmakers to pursue in her absence.  Namely, Napolitano called for:
•  Legislation extending in-state tuition rates to every veteran in Arizona.
•  Legislation that further cracks down on human smugglers.
•  Lawmakers to build on last year’s failed TIME transportation initiative, allowing “the people of Arizona to have their say on this critical issue by 2010.”

That initiative would have increased the state sales tax by 1 cent for each dollar purchase, generating more than $42 billion over 30 years for a range of transportation and transit projects across Arizona. But the citizens’ campaign, along with that of a second Napolitano-backed initiative reforming the state trust-land system, failed to qualify for the ballot when its collection of petition signatures was deemed insufficient.  Napolitano urged lawmakers to “increase access to the ballot” by reducing the number of signatures required of initiatives. Meanwhile, she suggested a crackdown on signature fraud by increasing the number of signatures that must be examined by county and state elections officials. She said paid petition circulators should be registered and the practice of those circulators being paid per signature should be banned. [Note: to read the full article click here.]