March 6th, 2012
Guest column by Diane Brossart, president of Valley Forward Association.
A statewide coalition backed by more than 300 businesses and parks stakeholders rallied at the state capitol this month in support of legislation to bolster the financial condition of Arizona State Parks.
The lead organizations were Arizona Forward, a business-based alliance focused on sustainability issues, and the Arizona State Parks Foundation. They were joined by representatives from an additional 30 environmental and community organizations in showing support for HB 2362, a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Karen Fann with 22 other sponsors in the House and Senate. The bill would protect the income earned by state parks through entrance fees and other user charges from legislative budget sweeps.
Studies show that outdoor recreation attracts more than 5.5 million Arizonans, generating approximately $350 million in annual state taxes and nearly $5 billion in retail services while supporting 82,000 jobs. Arizona Forward found from statewide polling that nearly every Arizonan (93 percent) believes that parks and open space are essential to Arizona tourism, a $17 billion industry. Further, Arizona businesses recognize that parks, forests and other open spaces are livability factors which attract employers and a strong workforce.
Like any business, state parks need incentives to meet its objectives, including the assurance that using best business practices will contribute to the financial success of the parks system. This new coalition is working to convince legislators that state parks operations cannot stand any additional sweeps from its remaining revenue sources. Protecting our parks and Arizona’s top export industry is not a partisan issue. It’s an economic issue.
Unfortunately, the Fann bill doesn’t solve the long-term funding gap faced by state parks. Many are struggling financially, operating on reduced hours and staying open only through temporary contributions from local governments and friends groups. Clearly, it is in every Arizonan’s interest to maintain a robust system of parks, open space and wildlife habitat. Arizona Forward is committed to convening stakeholders to explore long-term solutions to funding that system.
If you would like to lend your voice to supporting Arizona’s natural assets – the beautiful parks and open space that draws so many here – please visit arizonaforward.org.