Proposition 301: Fund sweep damages conservation, education and Arizona State Parks

Prop. 301 Could End Outdoor Preservation
Governor Jan Brewer and the Republican legislative leadership have furtively mounted an assault on land conservation and the outdoor experience in Arizona. And they’re asking you to be an accomplice with your vote on Proposition 301 in November.

This attack has come in three phases. If successful, it will cripple Arizona’s ability to provide its citizens with outdoor recreation for decades.
First, they have almost destroyed the State Park system by removing budget support and confiscating accrued user fees that State Parks was saving for critical capital needs. The Parks system is on financial life support and may not survive another year.

Second, they dismembered the Heritage Fund, a $20 million share of State Lottery proceeds created by the voters 20 years ago to pay for acquisition of state and local park sites and wildlife habitat. They repealed the Parks half outright, but the State Game & Fish $10 million portion was left in place to avoid alienating hunters and fishermen in an election year.

Finally, the governor and legislative leaders want you to give them the keys to the Arizona Land Conservation Fund, (the Growing Smarter Fund). It’s on the General Election ballot as Prop. 301 and would strip the fund of the money Arizona taxpayers have contributed to date and give it to the State Legislature.

This fund was created by state voters 10 years ago to provide a way for local governments to acquire State Trust Land, which could then be set aside permanently for preservation. At last count, the fund contained $123.5 million. The act is due to expire in 2011, so there will be no more funds accumulated after this fiscal year.

The fund works this way: A local government identifies a piece of Trust land it wants to preserve and applies to purchase it at its appraised value. The State Parks Board reviews the application and if approved, the local entity and the Land Conservation Fund split the cost. The purchase price goes to the beneficiaries of the State Land Trust, primarily the state’s schools.

Because the fund was established after the Voter Protection Act was passed, the Legislature can’t touch it without voter permission.

The need to preserve Trust land in urban areas is no less than it was when voters approved the Growing Smarter legislation. The money is unused so far because local governments have been hard-pressed to provide matching funds in the current economic crisis.

The economy will recover and local government will again be able to focus on land needs, but if the Legislature gets its hands on the money, it will never replace it.

Legislative leaders will say that if they don’t get this money they will have to empty school rooms, prisons and police cars. They won’t tell you that stopping Trust land sales will also hurt schools. And they can’t tell you what we should do when there is no open space left to preserve around Arizona communities.

To keep open space preservation a reality in Arizona, vote no on Prop. 301

Arizona Republic Editorial “Reject quick fix that threatens state’s treasures
Governor’s Commission on Privatization and Efficiency (COPE) proposes turning over your state parks to privateers.
COPE has recommended contracting out Arizona State Park (ASP) operations as the answer to sustaining some, if not all of the parks, lakes and historic sties purchased and paid for by Arizonans for more than 50 years. Preliminary COPE findings issued September 21 specifically call for the Arizona State Parks agency “to enter into more long-term concession agreements with private recreation firms [and] enhance its relationship with [the Arizona Department of] Tourism, Arizona Game and Fish Department, and locals to promote the state park system to in-state and out-of-state residents.”
While the report cites long-time ASP concession contracts as examples of past public/private partnerships, it ignores the fact that private contractors have focused their attentions mostly on a handful of high-use parks and have shown little or no interest in serving less visited parks that still provide regular public access to historic and startling scenic sites — places of the essence to Arizona’s unique beauty and heritage.

A Choice for Arizona’s Scenic, Recreation and Historic Heritage: Arizona is not alone in facing grim choices over closing, reducing or sustaining the whole of our state parks system built over many decades. In the face of the Great Recession, other states are struggling with similar parks funding crises and dilemmas. Given the relatively small size of the Arizona State Parks system, and the fact that it receives no state general funds support, no credible policy argument can be made for further reducing a park system that sustains a good deal of the state’s Western heritage and contributes so significantly to the economic viability of rural communities and towns.
It is up to the voters, parks friends and advocates to find common ground for a policy solution that will preserve Arizona State Parks and its exceptional assets for future generations.


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