Friday, February 29, 2008

Starving our parks

[Source: Arizona Republic] -- Watch out! Falling plaster! Arizona's state parks are literally crumbling. Chunks of plaster are coming off the walls at Douglas Mansion in Jerome. Parts of the sidewalk around the historic building are closed off to protect the public. The Legislature slashed park spending and raided the capital funds in the budget crisis of 2002. The money wasn't restored when revenues were rolling in. Arizona State Parks, with jewels that range from the underground wonders of Kartchner Caverns to the scenic and recreational pleasures of Picacho Peak (pictured), has an operating budget of $26 million - about $4 per Arizonan. Now, with the state facing a massive shortfall, the legislative budget proposal would slash park spending further. On top of that, there's a breathtakingly illogical proposal to cut park fees. Senate Bill 1458 would shrink the cost of an annual pass by 20 percent for Arizona residents. It passed the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Rural Affairs on a 4-3 vote.

The standard annual pass is $50, and it covers up to four adults in the same vehicle. It's good for any state park any day, except for the Colorado River parks on weekends and holidays. The premium pass, $125, is valid everywhere at anytime. It's a price signal that any economist would embrace, encouraging use of the mobbed river parks on weekdays. And compared with the cost of other types of recreation, the park pass is a smoking deal. Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, says he introduced the bill because his constituents complain that they already support state parks through taxes. Except they don't. Lawmakers haven't raised the operating budget for parks in six years. The price of gasoline and utilities has gone up so much that state parks sought supplemental funding of $500,000 to pay the bills. The department has been forced to tap the State Lake Improvement Fund, which gets the share of gas tax attributable to boating, to pay for $3.1 million in expenses. Senate Bill 1110 would strip that authority.

[Note: To read the full article, click here. Photo source: Ron Niebrugge.]