Arizona State Parks: Big Money Problems

[Source: Tucson Weekly, Jim Nintzel] – Here’s the good news from the State Parks Board meeting this week in Tucson: Despite more sweeps of the parks’ funds by the Arizona Legislature, all of the state parks that are now open will remain open next fiscal year. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee agreed earlier this month to allow the State Parks Department to shift some funds around so the agency would have enough funds to handle payroll and other other expenses.

Here’s the bad news: The parks are continuing to run on a shoestring and the current path is a road to disaster. “We can’t go on every year like this and try to sustain a statewide park system,” said board member William Scalzo.

The GOP-led Legislature has whittled away at the parks’ funds for years now. The parks used to get $10 million a year in lottery dollars, but that has been redirected by the Legislature. And in the upcoming budget year, lawmakers swiped a portion of the gate fees from the parks, as well as some of the money from the parks State Lake Improvement Fund.

At this point, the department has no money for any capital improvements—new campgrounds, improved sewer systems, historic renovation. The parks had $150 million in unmet capital needs in 2007; State Parks Director Renée Bahl says that number is even higher today, but the department doesn’t have enough money to even survey the needs.

Several parks are open because local governments, business leaders and non-profits have stepped up to help. The partners have been “fantastic,” says Bahl, but the arrangement “was a bridge, and there’s only so long a bridge can go.” Several board members talked about the dangers of “partnership fatigue” and the likelihood that local governments, with their own financial pressures, would not be able to keep helping out over the long term.

That, in turn, is bad news for rural economies. There’s reason that local governments and businesses want the parks to remain open: They are a big boost to tourism—and outside tax dollars—for rural communities. But board members also acknowledged the reality that lawmakers weren’t likely to either dramatically increase funding for parks or put a proposition on the ballot to create a dedicated funding stream—such as a small fee on license plates, which was floated as an idea last year.

Board members and parks staff ended the meeting yesterday talking about the possibility of a ballot initiative that would dedicate dollars for the parks system. There are several conservation-oriented ballot drives being formulated around the state and park supporters are looking into whether they can join forces with one of the efforts. “We want a sustainable, non-sweep-able revenue source,” said board member Larry Landry.

Viewpoint: Arizona Legislature’s passes a budget that slashes education, healthcare, state parks, and so much more

[Source: Jim Nintzel, Tucson Weekly, 3-18-2010] — In an effort to avoid raising taxes in the face of a budget deficit of more than $2 billion, Republicans in the Arizona Legislature cut more than a billion dollars in state spending last week.  Allowing only one day for testimony regarding the budget bills in both the House and the Senate appropriation committees, GOP lawmakers eliminated state support for all-day kindergarten, took away health insurance from more than 300,000 Arizonans below the federal poverty level, and eliminated the KidsCare program that provided health-care coverage for children.

State support for people with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses has been cut back, with an estimated 14,600 seriously mentally ill adults and 4,200 children losing their assistance.  The state’s GED and adult-education programs have been eliminated, as have dropout-prevention programs and AIMS intervention tutoring.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Sierra Club: Tell lawmakers to save Arizona State Parks

[Source: Tucson Weekly, Jim Nintzel, 1-29-2010] — The latest bulletin from Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr:  Hi everyone!  Don’t forget Environmental Day — Rally for Parks at the Capitol on Monday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.  We will have a brief program on the House Lawn.  Speakers will focus on parks and environmental programs and let us know how we can help turn the tide.

Please contact your legislators and tell them you support State Parks!  Ask them to:

  • Discontinue the transfer of monies from the Heritage Fund to the State Forester.
  • Eliminate all of the Fund Reductions and Transfers and Excess Balance Transfers from December 2009 — totaling about $8.6 million.
  • Allow Parks to keep all enhancement dollars (park fees) for operations, including those being collected currently.
  • Reject proposals for Fiscal Year 2011 that would divert all of the Heritage Fund dollars to the General Fund or any proposals to permanently divert all of the lottery revenues to the General Fund. This affects Game and Fish habitat and endangered species programs too.
  • Support a program that would allow Arizona residents with an Arizona license plate to visit all Arizona parks without paying an entrance fee. This can be accommodated by implementation of a $9 fee on Arizona vehicle licenses that will generate about $39 million, which will allow parks to maintain and operate the system.
  • Stop all Fund Reductions and Transfers and Excess Balance Transfers — keep fee funds for their intended purposes.
  • Expand partnerships with local governments and volunteer entities to keep parks operating and maintained.
  • Recognize parks and open space as integral to our quality of life, our economy, and to the future of our state and generations yet to come.

To email your legislators or find their direct phone numbers, click on Legislators or paste into your browser.  If you’re outside the Phoenix area, you can call your legislators’ offices toll free at 1-800-352-8404.  In the Phoenix area call (602) 926-3559 (Senate) or (602) 926-4221 (House) and ask them to connect you with your legislators.