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Bill to protect state parks from budget sweeps wins approval

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PHOENIX – A bill that would protect Arizona State Parks’ revenue from any further legislative sweeps was on its way to Gov. JanBrewer’s desk Monday after winning approval from the Senate.

HB 2362 would allow the agency to keep all revenue raised through gate and concession fees at its 29 parks that are open to the public. The bill was introduced by Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, whose district is home to five state parks.

“State parks bring in over $250 million in economic development by way of hotels, restaurants, gas stations and all the businesses surrounding the parks,” Fann said. “This is a huge win for our economy and our jobs.”

Many of those jobs have been in danger over the past three years, Fann said, as Arizona State Parks has temporarily closed or reduced hours at many of the properties due to budget constraints.

Since 2008, about $82 million has been swept from the agency. It currently works off a $19.5 million budget, agency officials said, but has about $200 million in capital needs. It hasn’t received money from the state’s general fund since 2009.

Fann’s bill was inspired by more than just desire to save natural land and rural economies. Pressure to protect the funds has been mounting from the Bureau of Land Management, which leases land to 10 of the agency’s 30 properties, said Jay Ziemann, legislative liaison for Arizona State Parks.

“We don’t generate enough revenues in the park system to make the park system totally self-sustaining,” Ziemann said.

Even if the governor signs the bill into law, the parks agency would still need to look for more forms of revenue.

“This bill was never going to be the overall solution to the park system’s economic fiscal woes, but it’s still an important tool for us to have,” Ziemann said.

The Senate passed the bill with 28 votes of support. No one voted against the bill.