Roper Lake safe for now

[Source: Diane Saunders, Eastern Arizonan Courier]

Roper Lake State Park will likely stay open, but its future could lie in the hands of a private company.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer wants to maintain state park funding at its current level, according to the state’s executive budget summary, but the State Senate is calling for a sweep of $2.090 million from the State Parks Enhancement Fund and privatization of “some or all state parks.”

The State Parks Enhancement fund is money from gate receipts, according to Cristie Statler, executive director of the Arizona State Parks Foundation. The foundation is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the parks.

Last year, the Legislature swept money from the Arizona Heritage Fund — a funding source for state parks. That left the Enhancement Fund to pay for repairs or improvements.

“We’ve never been more reliant on the Enhancement Fund than now,” Statler said in a phone interview Thursday. This fund has about $10 million.

She added that the State Senate, House of Representatives and Brewer must agree to transferring the state park money to the state’s general fund.

A “fact sheet” for Senate Bill 1624 shows the State Parks Board must allow a private contractor to operate at least one park that was profitable and one that was not profitable last year. The board must award contracts by Feb. 1, 2012.

Meanwhile, District 5 Senator Sylvia Allen believes “Roper Lake will survive.” She also believes privatization is a good option.

Allen said Friday that negotiations continue for funding the state parks, including Roper Lake.

Taking state parks totally private a bad idea—Grady Gammage Jr.

[Source: Grady Gammage Jr.,  Special for the Arizona Republic]

If you only caught the recent news headline, “Arizona state parks system would run better privately, study says” (Valley & State, Jan. 12), you might quickly surmise we should privatize state parks like we’re doing with prisons.

Not so fast. The headline does not reflect the full content or context of the story. Nor does it reflect what the cited report or prior studies examining Arizona state parks truly recommend when it comes to privatization.

In fall 2009, Morrison Institute for Public Policy issued “The Price of Stewardship: The Future of Arizona’s State Parks.” The report looked at the parks system and the agency that runs the parks, and examined what it would take to create a sustainable future.

One of the primary findings was that the park system had been starved by the Legislature, including of money parks take in, leaving it totally at the mercy of general-fund appropriations.

In 2010 the general-fund appropriation for parks was zero. That’s not a typo.

A task force appointed by Gov. Jan Brewer reviewed the report’s cost-saving and revenue-producing options, and made recommendations – including a combination of local partnerships, increased concessionaire use and a modest surcharge on license plates that would give Arizona residents automatic access to the parks.

Both the task force and Morrison Institute report recognized there are inherently public functions connected to parks, such as educational programs, that deserve and require public financial support to survive.

Unfortunately, as the task force reviewed the “big picture” of state parks, Arizona’s budget crisis deepened. Its recommendations went nowhere, lost in the tide of red ink that overwhelms our state.

In reacting to the report and the task-force recommendations, some commentators and lawmakers seized on the concept of “privatization” as the silver bullet for dealing with the parks system, rather than as a component of a more comprehensive solution.

A subsequent report, “The Arizona State Park Privatization and Efficiency Plan,” issued in December by the Arizona State Parks Foundation and conducted by private-consulting firm PROS Consulting, examines specifically the potential for privatization. Some key points:

  • Even in the downturn, Arizona’s state parks represent a tremendous return on investment. The PROS study estimates $223 million in economic benefit to the state in 2010.
  • There is potential for much greater private-sector involvement in managing the parks, primarily in the area of concessions, maintenance and recreational use. And there is potential for local partnerships, reinforcing a task-force finding.
  • Private management of public assets requires serious oversight by the public; privatization does not mean the state can escape all effort and cost.
  • Arizona should give serious consideration to the creation of a quasi-governmental agency to manage the park system. This is similar to what the state is doing with economic development, through the creation of the Arizona Commerce Authority.

Both the Morrison Institute report and the PROS report highlight the real tragedy of our parks system: Arizona State Parks has not been given a fair chance to prove itself. While we say we want it to operate more like an enterprise, since 2003, through various mechanisms, the Legislature has “swept” away portions – or all – of what Arizona State Parks has earned.

No private operator could run a business if its operating income was taken away. It is unfair to Arizona State Parks to expect it to do so. Perhaps a quasi-governmental structure could restore sanity to this equation and save our parks.

Attorney, land-use expert and educator Grady Gammage Jr. is a senior research fellow at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

Study: Privatize SOME State Parks

[Source: Ginger Rough, The Arizona Republic]

Non-profit’s report suggests streamlining, reorganization

A new study (.pdf) concludes that Arizona’s state-parks system could operate more efficiently if the private sector took over part of its operations and if a quasi-public agency managed it.

However, the report, commissioned by the non-profit Arizona State Parks Foundation, says it is not feasible to privatize the entire system, in part because some state parks, such as Lake Havasu and Lost Dutchman, are operated via leases with the federal government’s Bureau of Land Management.

“You can’t privatize what you don’t own,” said Cristie Statler, the foundation’s executive director. The group does fundraising for the state-parks system.

Among other things, the study also suggests that the state continue to reduce park operating hours, including keeping some parks open only during certain seasons. It also says it would be more efficient to have regional teams manage several park sites.

Consultants looked at all but two or three of the state’s 30 parks before making their recommendations.

Arizona officials, grappling with an ongoing budget crisis, have been looking for ways to privatize services and improve government efficiency. An 11-member commission appointed by Gov. Jan Brewer issued broad preliminary ideas on how to do that in September, but has missed a year-end deadline to unveil long-term, specific proposals.

Budget cuts had threatened to close more than a dozen parks last year, but officials worked to get financial commitments from counties and community groups to keep several of them open. Currently only three of the state’s 30 parks and recreation areas are closed.

It’s not clear what will come of the recommendations in the report, which was written by PROS Consulting of Indianapolis and cost $35,000. It was vetted by current or former parks directors at six out-of-state agencies that have privatized some of their services, Statler said.

Renee Bahl, executive director of the Arizona Parks Board, said creating a quasi-public authority was an “idea worth exploring,” but the most important thing was ensuring that the parks system is a self-sufficient agency that brings money into the state.

The foundation has approached the Governor’s Office about the findings, and is “interested in working” with Brewer’s Commission on Privatization and Efficiency, Statler said.


Arizona privatization report not done yet


Governor Jan Brewer’s Commission on Privatization will miss its deadline to recommend what the state should do to cut its budget.

The Governor hoped for a final report by December 31st. But a spokesman says the report isn’t done.

One of the options the commission is investigating is the idea to privatize state parks.

Visitors at Catalina State Park have mixed opinions.

Jim Clarke is a regular at Catalina State Park. He says he hiked here before it was a park.

“I think this park works very well the way it is,” Clarke says. “The old cliché {says} if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Clarke opposes privatization. He says, “I don’t like it, mainly because privatizing to me means for profit.”

Canadian Roy Moor camps at Catalina State Park every winter. He also stays at private campgrounds.

Moor says, “Private parks tend to offer more amenities and tend to be more expensive. State parks offer an opportunity to really experience nature.”

Faced with a big budget deficit, Governor Brewer created the state cost cutting committee called COPE, the Commission on Privatization and Efficiency. Its initial report discussed privatizing state parks.

Park users like Chris Hanson are we’re still waiting to see what the final report says. He says, “I’m not against it conceptually. It would depend completely upon the details of it, how they’re going to actually run the park, what it would entail, what would be privatized, how it would affect the use.”

Commission Chairman Mark Brnovich says the group is looking at questions including, “Is there a better way to fund the parks and is there a better way to make sure the parks are kept open and providing the public the maximum amount of services possible.”

Digging deeper, already many Arizona parks have public-private partnerships.

Arizona State Parks have 30 properties. But only nine of them are fully operated and staffed by parks staff. Nine others are operated by parks staff with support from a nonprofit or local government. Others have been totally turned over to local governments or nonprofits. Others have been closed.