Which Arizona state parks will close?

Horse's patootie (read the article and you'll understand)

[Source: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services/Arizona Daily Star] — The decision by lawmakers last month to take funds from the parks system means some will be closed later this year, the director of the agency said Thursday.  The only question that remains, Renee Bahl said, is which ones.  Bahl said the system, which already gets no direct taxpayer dollars, is being crippled because of the legislative action to take away a chunk of the funds they get from other sources.  That includes not only the fees paid by those who go to the parks but also special funds raised, such as assessments on registration of boats and off-road vehicles.  The bottom line, she said, is that her agency will have $7.5 million to spend rather than the $19 million it had planned for the fiscal year that began last July 1.

Bahl said she will make specific recommendations to the board on which parks to close in two weeks.  But she outlined the criteria her staff will use — criteria that are likely to be bad news for the smallest and least-used of the parks.  One of the most important, she said, is which make money or, at the very least, don’t lose a lot.  Bahl said that makes the most sense, as the cash from those parks might eventually be enough to reopen one or more of those shut down.

Topping the list of money producers is Kartchner Caverns, near Benson, followed by Slide Rock and Lake Havasu state parks.  Catalina State Park, north of Tucson, brings in about $193,000 more a year than it costs to operate.  But the parks system also is populated with sites that bleed red ink.  Topping that list is Tonto Natural Bridge near Payson, where costs exceed revenues by $541,000.  Red Rock State Park at Sedona operates on a $190,000-a-year loss, with six-digit deficits at Tubac Presidio, Picacho Peak, Homolovi Ruins, and the Riordan Mansion in Flagstaff.

Bahl said, though, that the board will have to consider other factors when deciding which parks should be shut down.  “There are one-time costs like fencing, or if we needed to add a security system to a building or board something up,” she said.  “And we’re still going to need to keep an eye on it after that, checking it both for fire hazards and seeing if there’s any trespassing.”

Several board members, given the news, lashed out at lawmakers for taking the funds, even after being told at hearings last month that it will mean shutting parks.  “We have people in the Legislature who don’t believe state parks should exist,” Tracey Westerhausen complained.  She said the best thing that those who want the parks system could do is go out this year and elect different people.

Board Chairman Reese Woodling said the parks bring in more in tax dollars from visitors to communities than the cost. He said that message seems lost on lawmakers.  But board member Arlan Colton said it’s not that they don’t understand.  He said that, facing a multibillion-dollar deficit, “I don’t really think they give a horse’s patootie” about the effect of taking a couple of million dollars from the parks system.

Woodling said he and Bahl spoke with Gov. Jan Brewer earlier this week.  He said the governor, who signed the legislation authorizing taking the money, was sympathetic but offered no answers.  “I’m just sick to my stomach,” he said.  Brewer had no choice but to approve raiding the funds, said her spokesman, Paul Senseman.  “The Legislature has been unable to muster enough support for a deficit-reduction plan,” he said.

But Senseman said Brewer is unwilling, at least at this point, to endorse the recommendation of a task force she formed to create a “sustainable” park system: put an optional $15 surcharge on the registration fees for all vehicles in this state.  The fees would raise enough to keep the system operating, with motorists who paid the extra cash getting free admission all year to every state park.  “The governor believes it ought to be discussed in a very serious fashion,” Senseman said of the recommendation.  [Note: To read the full article, visit Which Arizona state parks will close?]

State Parks task force recommends $15 surcharge at MVD

Source: Chrystall Kanyuck, Arizona Capitol Times.com 11-5-2009]

A task force appointed by Gov. Jan Brewer recommends adding $14 or $15 to annual vehicle registrations to help sustain Arizona State Parks. The recommendation from the Task Force on Sustainable State Parks Funding includes the ability for vehicle owners to opt out of the fee. However, all drivers with Arizona license plates would receive free admission to state parks. 

The proposed fee echoes a recommendation in a report last month by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. Paul Senseman, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said the recommendation is worthy of public discussion. 

“There have been cuts for many years, and the parks are in critical need of funding,” he said. 

With the state addressing a budget crisis, Arizona State Parks has seen its operating budget cut to $19 million in the fiscal year that began in July from $26 million the previous year. Entrance fees, which helped fund capital improvements, are now used to cover operating costs [to read the full article click here].

Yuma history under Arizona governor’s budget ax

[Source: Stephanie Wilken, Yuma Sun] — Cuts in Gov. Jan Brewer’s state budget could close the Sanguinetti House Museum in Yuma and three other history museums across the state, cutting the state’s past out of millions of Arizonans’ lives. Brewer’s proposed state budget would cut $473,000 in funding for the Arizona Historical Society.  The society operates four museums around the state and houses the state’s historical archives, totalling about 1 million artifacts — some predating statehood.  The proposed cuts would reduce the funding by 20 percent a year for the next five years, which means state support for the society would end completely in 2015.

Mark Haynes, president of the Rio Colorado Chapter, the Yuma chapter of the society, said he is dismayed that the governor would propose anything like that.   But Paul Senseman, spokesman with the governor’s office, said in a time when the state is facing an estimated $3 billion deficit, there are proposed cuts across the board — even in education and social services.

Haynes said the cuts would have a “pretty big impact,” and without the Sanguinetti House, Yumans will have no place to see their history, research the past, including the area’s history of mining and agriculture.  “Once it’s lost, it’s very hard to go back and recapture what you’ve lost,” he said.

The Sanguinetti House is one of the oldest adobe structures in the state, Haynes said.  And if the museum closes, it could affect its three employees — two full-time and one part-time — along with about 20 volunteers.  Haynes said the possibility of local, private funding could help provide minimum maintenance to sustain the facilities, but there is no firm answer if that could happen.  He said this proposed cut is the latest round, with cuts from the Legislature dating back to 2001, which eliminated various positions and aspects of the society’s functions. “This is just the last nail in the coffin, so to speak,” he said.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Parks and environment are Arizona budget casualties

[Source: The Arizona Guardian] — State Parks Director Ken Travous said Friday he laid off all seasonal parks workers — about 60 people in all — and suspended payments to local community groups for the state’s share of local projects.  He also has drawn up a list of eight parks the state can close — five immediately and three more in June — to be considered at a special meeting of the state parks board on Tuesday.  The state operates 27 parks.

The board also is expected to discuss more layoffs and other ways to deal with significant cuts in its $28 million budget.  The parks department was hit hard in the budgets passed Thursday by the House and Senate appropriations committees.  Cuts totaled more than $20 million for the current fiscal year, which is more than half over, through agency reductions and sweeps of funds used for parks and other recreational facilities.  Then on Friday morning, Gov. Jan Brewer proposed whacking another $1.8 million from two other funds the parks administer, including a boating safety program.  Travous is particularly bothered that legislative leaders and the governor don’t seem to care that parks are in terrible shape already due to lack of money.  “Our buildings are falling down,” Travous said, “literally falling down.”  Particularly hard hit in the GOP budget is the Heritage Fund, put in place by voters in 1990 to make sure parks and wildlife programs were adequately taken care of.  The Heritage Fund is fueled by $10 million annually from the state Lottery, an amount that has stayed the same since soon after it was started.  The proposed budget takes nearly $5 million from the Heritage Fund and gives $3 million of that to a fire suppression program. “They’re giving it to a program that prevents fires rather than a building that is already falling down,” Travous said.

Sandy Bahr, the lobbyist for the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, said there have been about 30 attempts to raid the Heritage Fund in the past 20 years, but support has been widespread because the money benefits so many local communities and small projects — in many legislative districts.  But this year environmental concerns are being seriously challenged as lawmakers struggle to find money to satisfy myriad pressing needs.  That point was drilled home when Brewer finally entered the budget debate.  She basically traded off more than $18 million in cuts for programs that deal with health care, behavioral health, autism, the deaf and blind, and the homeless for $18 million in reductions largely from environmental programs — water quality, air quality, emissions inspections, and the state’s Superfund cleanup efforts.

The Department of Environmental Quality was up for about $30 million in cuts from operations, staff and fund sweeps. Brewer wants another $14 million chopped from programs.  “We had apprehensions about Brewer based on her voting record when she was in the Legislature,” Bahr said.  “Further decimating DEQ is an example of how her perspective hasn’t changed.”  Environmental groups routinely gave Brewer low marks — some of the lowest in the Senate — in the mid-1990s, according to scorecards released back then.  “The bottom line is environmental protection is not a big priority for the Brewer administration,” Bahr said.

Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman said Brewer’s request to take money from environmental funds and put more toward social programs shouldn’t be seen as anything more than trying to balance difficult choices.  “It’s not a broad generalization about where it leads to policy,” he said.  Bahr argues that environmental programs are really public health efforts — gutting the air quality fund, for instance, has a disastrous effect on people’s health, especially children.  She pointed to a recent DEQ study that shows asthma attacks among children rise when particulate levels go up.  The programs DEQ oversees are designed to help the state meet health-based standards set by law.  Bahr says the federal government likely will step in and enforce water and air quality standards since the state can’t do it.  The FY 2010 budget “is going to be horrible,” Bahr said.  “This is just a precursor of what to expect. It’s going to be even uglier.”

Beyond the budget, Bahr said bills are being introduced that attempt to weaken environmental regulations and enforcement efforts.  “It’s pretty discouraging to see how little progress we’ve made convincing lawmakers that environmental protection is a priority and how important it is to our economy.”