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Rural lawmaker seeks halt to state sweeping Arizona State Parks revenues

Tonto Natural Bridge, the site of a popular state park, lies just north of Payson. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Alyson Zepeda)

Arizona State Parks would be able to protect the revenue it raises from budget sweeps and use it for park operations under legislation proposed by a rural lawmaker.

Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, whose district is home to five state parks, said it was “penny wise and pound foolish” for the Legislature to cut the agency’s funding so drastically over the past few years.

“Our state parks contribute to jobs and economic development. Especially in rural areas, they’re the ones bringing in business to local restaurants and hotels,” said Fann, the author of HB 2362.

The bill would create a fund allowing Arizona State Parks to keep all of the money generated from gate fees, concession fees, souvenir sales and all unconditional gifts and donations not specified for particular projects.

The money would go toward operation and maintenance costs for the entire parks system. The state wouldn’t be able to pull money from the agency to help balance its budget, as it has done in the past, Fann said.

“We’re asking the Legislature that we make sure, from here on out, that we don’t touch their fund,” she said. “Hands off this one. No sweeps of this one.”

The fund would not only protect park budgets but also ensure that Arizona State Parks is following rules set by the federal Bureau of Land Management, said Arizona State Parks Assistant Director Jay Ziemann.

Many of the state’s larger parks sit on land that the federal government has transferred to the state at little to no cost as part of the Recreation and Public Purposes Act. These parks have entered into various financial partnerships with private entities, such as concession companies, Ziemann said.

The Bureau of Land Management requires that all money generated by these parks be reinvested into the parks, not transferred to the state. Without the protection of the parks’ funds, the public-private partnerships would also not be eligible for renewal.

Arizona State Parks hasn’t received money from the state’s general fund since 2009. Meanwhile, more than $15 million has been swept from the agency’s revenues, Ziemann said.

“The Legislature directed the Arizona State Parks Board to act like a business, to go out and survive on their revenues,” Ziemann said. “Since then, they’ve essentially stolen money out of the till.”

Fann said her district’s parks brought in more than 500,000 tourists and $1.8 million last year, supporting 916 jobs.

“It could have been much worse, if not for the municipalities who stepped up to the plate and contributed a little money from their funds to help minimize the impact of the sweeps,” Fann said.

Rep. Russ Jones, R-Yuma, one of the nine primary sponsors of HB 2362, said that though partnerships with companies have helped raise park revenues, the state’s parks should not become “private retail venues.”

“Every one of our parks is a jewel and we should take pride in how they look and how they function,” Jones said.

Arizona State Parks:

• manages 30 state parks, 28 of which are currently open;
• receives 2 million visitors on average each year;
• provides more than 1,400 camping and RV sites;
• manages more than 600 trails;
• and includes the State Trails Program and the State Historic Preservation Office.

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