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Thursday, April 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Arizona Senate committee advances bill that would help fund state parks with lottery revenue

The Arizona State Appropriations Committee Tuesday voted to advance a bill that would boost funding for state and local parks.

PHOENIX (CN) — The Arizona Senate Appropriations Committee voted Tuesday to advance a bill that could allocate millions in lottery funds to an annual grant program designed to benefit local, state and regional parks.

The Arizona Heritage Fund was created in 1990 by a voter initiative project to promote the state’s natural and historic resources. From 1990 to 2009, upwards of $20 million in lottery revenue was divided annually between the Arizona Game and Fish Department and Arizona State Parks and Trails.

In 2009, during the Great Recession, the Arizona Legislature eliminated the State Parks Heritage Fund. A 2019 bill restored the fund but did not provide it with any money.

The situation began to change last year when Senator T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, and Representative Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, successfully introduced bills allocating $5 million for the fund.

This year, Shope is sponsoring Senate Bill 1270, which asks for $3 million annually to be appropriated from the State Lottery Fund to the State Parks Heritage Fund. 

According to Lani Lott of the bipartisan Arizona Heritage Alliance, who spoke during a Saturday web conference with the Sierra Club, $2.5 million of the $5 million allocated last year has already been exhausted.

Recent fund recipients include the town of Buckeye, which accepted a $500,000 grant to help fund a 38-acre expansion that includes a fishing lake with a pavilion, splash pad, basketball courts and sports fields.

The Town of Clarkdale also received a $500,000 grant to revitalize the struggling Selna-Mongini Park into a community hub for activity. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federally funded grant program backed by royalties paid to the government by offshore oil and gas drilling in federal waters, also matched the Clarkdale grant offer (matching grants from outside sources boost impact of the Heritage Fund grants).

In addition to numerous local and regional parks, the state has 64,000 acres of state parks and trails, including 18 recreational parks, according to the Arizona State Parks Board. State parks include Tonto Natural Bridge — featuring what's believed to be the world's longest travertine bridge — Homolovi State Park — a rich archaelogical area that includes four major 14th-century pueblos — and Catalina State Park, just outside of Tucson at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains — home to about 5,000 saguaros.

“Previously Arizonans voted to direct $10 million a year to the State Parks Heritage Fund through a ballot initiative,” said Scott Garlid of the Arizona Wildlife Federation during public comments. “That funding was pulled, probably wisely during the Great Recession. We think it's time to put that money back. Please vote to approve Senate Bill 1270 and the associated funding for the State Parks Heritage Fund.”

The Arizona Heritage Alliance and Arizona Wildlife Federation are lobbying to restore the pre-recession era allocation of $10 million annually to the fund. There was confusion among the committee over the amount, as the bill states that only $3 million would be allocated to the parks fund annually.

“That’s something that I wanted to chat about in this committee obviously, and then over in the House because I know that a couple of representatives who had a hand in the crafting of last year’s bill also have some strong opinions on what they would like to see,” said Shope to the Committee. “[It’s] to be determined.”

The bill received unanimous support from the committee with six Republicans and four Democrats voting yes. It will now move to the Arizona House for review and amendments.

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Categories / Environment, Financial, Government

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