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Local Opinion: Legislature needs to fully fund Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

For many of us, our most treasured childhood memories are romping in a neighborhood park or taking a hike in Arizona’s wide-open spaces. Every community in our state, regardless of size, has a place where parents and their children picnic; throw, kick, hit and dunk a ball, or stare in wonderment at Arizona’s unique flora and fauna. These special places provide wholesome outdoor recreation.

This year, we have an opportunity to make our heritage fund whole and provide adequate funding for our state parks and our historical preservation projects, as originally approved by voters as the beneficiaries of the state lottery funds.

Urban sprawl and destructive fires have impacted our open spaces, and historic buildings and cultural sites.

The Arizona Heritage Fund was created in 1990 as a voter initiative which passed with over 62% majority.

It directed $10 million annually from the state lottery to the State Parks Heritage Fund to be used for local, regional, and state parks, trails and open spaces, and cultural heritage sites.

It also created a separate Arizona Game and Fish Heritage Fund, with its own $10 million annually from state lottery revenues. The Game and Fish Heritage Fund uses its money to protect and manage habitat for Arizona’s wildlife.

The Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund grants, from 1990 to the Great Recession in 2009, provided key funding through a competitive, matching grant process for communities, tribes, and agencies to enhance and create parks and trails, and restore, repair, and reuse historic properties.

The Arizona Heritage Alliance, formed in 1992 and where I serve on the board, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501©(3) organization that is funded solely with private donations, grants, and memberships. Its mission is to protect, preserve and enhance Arizona’s historic, cultural and natural heritage by protecting the integrity and voter intent of the Arizona Heritage Fund. The alliance’s long-standing commitment to remain at the center of conversations with stakeholders and the Legislature to fully fund and implement the restored State Parks Heritage Fund has not changed.

Since the creation of the State Parks Heritage Fund 32 years ago, over $89 million in grants have been reinvested in parks, trails, open spaces, and cultural sites in communities across Arizona. With local matching funds added in, $207 million has been spent in projects statewide.

In 2010, the state legislative majority decided — as part of their plan to address severe budget shortfalls during the Great Recession — to repeal the State Parks Heritage Fund and directed that any money remaining in the fund revert to the general fund.

Over the 12 years since the State Parks Heritage Fund was eliminated, the fund has lost $120 million that should have been used for parks, trails, and cultural sites in accordance with the wishes of the voters. (The Game & Fish Heritage Fund was not impacted by this legislative action and continues to receive $10 million annually.)

In the 2019 legislative session, Senate Bill 1241, sponsored by then state Sen. Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix, was passed by the state Legislature with bipartisan support, and signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey. While SB 1241 put the State Parks Heritage Fund back into statute, it did not restore the annual $10 million from lottery revenues.

In the 2021 session, state Rep. Joanne Osborne of Goodyear introduced a bill to finance the Fund. Osborne’s bill received strong public support as well as bipartisan legislative support. Through the final budget negotiation process between the House, Senate, and governor in June 2021, the outcome was a one-time appropriation of $5 million for fiscal year 2022.

As the 2022 legislative session begins, with large budget surpluses and the Arizona Lottery encumbrances having been repaid and removed, the board of the Arizona Heritage Alliance, other heritage and environmental stakeholder groups, and hundreds of Arizonans who have communicated their views to the Legislature, believe it is time to reinstate the funding to the state parks portion of the Heritage Fund.

It is time to make Arizona’s precious heritage whole again — now and into the future.

Steve Farley, a Tucson resident, served six terms in the Arizona Legislature. He was elected to the Board of the Arizona Heritage Alliance in 2020. He is currently the CEO of the Humane Society

of Southern Arizona.

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