Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Legislature should override Brewer’s veto of parks funding bill

It’s well known how much Republicans and Democrats detest each other in the Arizona Legislature. Watching floor debates in either legislative chamber is like watching a room full of Pee Wee Hermans sneering at each other chanting, “I know you are but what am I.”

So when 78 of the state’s 90 legislators, Republicans and Democrats alike, all voted to stop raiding state parks funds to balance the budget and to create a consolidated state parks fund, it was the closest thing to a Kumbaya group hug the Legislature has seen in years.

Enter Jan Brewer.

The governor rained on the Legislature’s bipartisan parks bill parade Thursday, vetoing it because she said she thought it went too far and should have dealt only with the leases of federal land some state parks have.

That’s a silly and specious reason for rejecting a bill that protects the funding of the state’s 30 parks.

The Legislature should override Brewer’s veto and restore the bill supported by thousands of Arizonans, every county and the environmental and business communities.

The votes are there. The bill, HB 2362, passed the House 50-5 and the Senate 28-0.

Arizona’s parks are in dire shape. The parks have been starved for operating funds the past four years as the Legislature drastically cut parks funding and stole millions of dollars in various funds reserved for parks improvements.

In some parks, asphalt roads are a few years from decaying to dirt roads, campground facilities are crumbling and some buildings, many of them historic, are badly in need of renovation and repair. Parks officials estimate the cost of that deferred maintenance at $200 million.

But HB 2362 didn’t do anything about the sorry shape of the state’s 30 parks. It just walled off its funds from budget raids. The annual appropriation for the parks is still meager, less than $20 million this year.

But some of the state’s parks are moneymakers, not only generating enough revenue to pay for daily operation and maintenance, but also enough to have a surplus at the end of the fiscal year.

Under the bill, with all of the various funds that benefited the parks system consolidated into one fund, and its prohibition on the Legislature picking that fund’s pocket, the state parks board could begin working with the all of the groups and organizations with vested interests in seeing the parks survive and thrive to create a fiscal plan for digging out of the hole the parks were thrown into the past four years.

Poverty already created many of these close relationships. Several parks, including those in Tombstone and Tubac, have created public-private partnerships with counties and chambers of commerce to provide the funds and volunteers to keep the parks open during the state’s budget crisis.

This bill would have allowed those parks to build on those relationships now that parks department had a budget safe from raiding.

The whims of one woman should not outweigh the wishes of tens of thousands of Arizonans and 78 legislators.

Override Brewer’s veto of HB 2362.

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