PHOENIX - The nation faces tough questions in tough times, and there are people on both sides of every issue.
Arizona is no different. But who’s saying what about the issues important to Arizonans?
Each Sunday, ABC15.com debuts an Arizona issue - along with two opposing sides on the topic.
Don’t worry, you always have the opportunity to make comments at the bottom of the page. Yeah, your opinion matters too.
This week we're tackling the debate over Proposition 301, a November ballot measure that would transfer $124 million from the Land Conservation Fund to the state's general fund.
Supporters say the money would help to repair the state's still-suffering budget, preventing further cuts to Arizona's education and public safety systems. They argue it is more beneficial in our current economic climate to redirect the funds to deserving state programs that could use the money now.
Opponents contend transferring the funds undermines the voter-approved measure, aimed at preserving Arizona's lush open spaces and tourist appeal. They say Prop 301 would harm both conservation and education, which is why teachers and conservationists alike are opposing it.
So, is Proposition 301 good or bad for Arizona?
Click "next" to read the first of two positions, "Arizona needs Prop 301"
ARIZONA NEEDS PROP 301: By Rick Murphy, State Representative, District 9
If you spent $100 per month on movie tickets, but your income was cut in half, would you keep spending $100 per month on movie tickets? Probably not. Most people would not do something so irresponsible. But some well-connected special interests are asking you to vote to have Arizona do something equally irresponsible.
That’s why I strongly encourage voters to vote “YES” on Proposition 301. Prop. 301 would redirect $124 million from the Land Conservation Fund to the state general fund to help protect higher-priority spending, primarily on education and public safety.
The Land Conservation Fund was established by voters in 1998, when state finances weren’t so precarious. There have been annual deposits of $20 million for the past ten fiscal years, with the final installment this year, for a total of $220 million taxpayer dollars.
More than half that amount remains unspent in the fund.
The money is supposed to be used to restrict or prevent development on state trust land. Voters should ask themselves: If taxpayer money that is supposedly set aside for “preservation” wasn’t spent during our last housing boom, what worthwhile use will it be spent on anytime soon? And why should a relatively small special-interest group hoard so much money while K-12 education and public safety programs suffer?
Development of state trust land has come to a screeching halt and it will be several years before any significant amount of trust land is likely to be sold. It doesn’t take money to “preserve” land that will sit vacant for years. We can revisit that issue once the economy rebounds.
Meanwhile, with very limited funds available for any purpose, that money should be redirected to programs that will actually help us now, like K-12 education and public safety. “Land preservation” is simply a luxury we can’t afford right now.
Besides, there aren’t many places left for the legislature to find budget solutions. State revenues have declined almost 40% since 2007 due to the ongoing nationwide recession. About $1.1 billion has been cut from Arizona’s general fund budget (about 10%) and taxes have been increased by over $1.2 billion (about 11%). Yet we are still spending $1.7 billion more than what comes in. That means solutions to date have only been enough to cover about 58% of our deficit. Something has to give.
Since the enactment of Obamacare took AHCCCS off the table for any cuts, and most everything else has already been cut by 20-40%, K-12 education and public safety (over 50% of the budget) are the only budget areas left where there is enough money to balance the budget.
I don’t think anyone is in favor of cutting $1.7 billion from those areas, but if Props. 301 and 302 fail, there is little other choice.
Since Arizona can’t print money, we have three choices: drastic spending cuts, massive tax increases or short-term solutions (fund sweeps, asset sales or borrowing) that mitigate or postpone the need for the first two options. So far, Arizona has used a mix of all three, but we’re still far short of our target.
Most of the short-term options have been exhausted. Even if it were wise, Arizona can’t really borrow much more money. The legislature needs your help to reduce the budget gradually until it is in balance. Sweeping these voter-protected funds that are currently reserved exclusively for programs that are luxuries has been saved as a last resort.
Make no mistake, special interests are spending a lot of money to try to convince you to vote “no.” They’ll create scary ads that will make it sound like the world will end if the taxpayer money they depend on is reduced. According to them, cuts to any program will somehow harm children and/or the elderly.
They make it sound like “voter protected” means you shouldn’t be able to change your mind.
There is even a new group calling itself “Arizona Taxpayers Association” that is putting up signs (the ones with the “stop” signs on them) asking voters to vote “no” on ALL of the ballot propositions. However, this group is not a real “taxpayers association.” Since the group didn’t even bother to comply with the campaign finance disclosure laws, it’s hard to know where all their money is coming from.
However, we do know it was founded by long-time Democrat political operatives with strong ties to unions and other special interests that profit from the taxpayer dollars that you are being asked to reallocate. Don’t let these special interests trick you into a “no” vote that will result in cuts to basics, like K-12 education and public safety, while they line their pockets with your money. Their deception should not be rewarded.
The cold, hard truth is that every potential solution will cause hardship for someone. We are way past the point of good solutions. If the voters refuse to allow the voter-protected funds to be swept, most or all of the cuts that were avoided by the passage of the sales tax increase in May will
probably happen anyway sometime next year. Your “YES” vote on Prop. 301 will help the legislature’s efforts to avoid that.
No responsible parent whose income was cut in half would continue spending $100 per month on movie tickets even though the water has been shut off and the electricity is next.
No amount of cajoling by theater owners that “everyone deserves an escape” would convince them that movie tickets are a higher priority than water and electricity. If Props. 301 and 302 fail, that is essentially what the state of Arizona will be doing. Please vote “YES” on Prop. 301.
Do you agree with this opinion? Add a comment below to sound off.
Click "next" to read the second position, "Prop 301 is bad for Arizona"
PROP 301 IS BAD FOR ARIZONA: By Sandy Bahr, Chapter Director, Sierra Club - Grand Canyon Chapter
The Arizona Legislature has had many bad ideas over the years and is frequently out of touch with voters. That is why, so often, we must use the initiative and referendum process to advance important issues such as land conservation and funding for parks and wildlife. That is also why we have had to take significant actions to safeguard voter-approved measures.
Legislators frequently think they know better than the voters and therefore should be able to defund, eviscerate, or otherwise pervert voter-approved measures.
It is this notion by legislators that culminated in the passage of the citizen-initiated Voter Protection Act in 1998, which makes it much more difficult for the Arizona Legislature to undercut or swipe dollars from voter-approved measures.
Legislators may not like the Voter Protection Act, but they have only themselves to thank.
And the Voter Protection Act is the only reason Proposition 301 is on the ballot.
You see, in 1998, Arizona voters also passed the Land Conservation Fund to protect open space. The voters get it: open space and a strong tourist economy are important in Arizona.
The legislature apparently can’t grasp the big picture. (There’s a reason Arizona has hit bottom on several key economic measures.)
Without the Voter Protection Act in place, the legislature would have long ago swept the $123.5 million in the Land Conservation Fund, giving it the same painful end that they’ve dealt other conservation programs at the Capitol. We need to look no further than Arizona State Parks to see how our legislators support conservation.
Despite the fact that parks generate more for the state and local communities than they cost, the legislature has defunded them to the point where parks are being closed. The legislature even took our park entrance fees and used them for other purposes.
Governor Brewer and the legislature also swept and repealed the State Parks Heritage Fund, a measure approved by the voters in 1990.
This measure had withstood more than 30 attempts to destroy it but could not withstand the onslaught of a legislature hell-bent on decimating parks. The Heritage Fund was not protected by the Voter Protection Act, because it was passed prior to 1998. Because legislators could take it, they did.
But that wasn’t enough. They then referred Proposition 301 because it is the only way they can get their hands on these Land Conservation Dollars—that is, if you and I approve of it.
Proposition 301 proposes to raid the Land Conservation Fund and sweep it into the General Fund, where the Arizona Legislature will determine how it is appropriated. Legislators argue that if they don’t get their hands on these dollars, they will have to further cut education. However, Prop 301 would actually harm both conservation and education, which is why teachers and conservationists alike are opposing it.
The Land Conservation Fund was established by the voters in 1998 when they approved the Growing Smarter Act. The dollars in this fund provide a match for communities to acquire state trust lands for conservation, including lands that are part of the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve, Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, the Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve, the Flagstaff Open Space Plan, open space lands near Prescott, and more. The dollars can only be used to acquire State Trust Lands – not private or other public lands.
State Trust Lands were set aside at statehood to help provide income for certain beneficiaries, the primary one being public schools. Revenue from the sale or lease of State Trust Lands benefits schools, universities, etc. Both the match dollars provided by communities and the Land Conservation Fund dollars go into the Trust for the benefit of Arizona school children.
Some argue that these conservation dollars will not be used in a down economy, but that is not the case. Land conservation continues in the current economy and, in fact, many of the dollars generated recently for the trust came from land conservation.
Arizona devotes limited dollars to conservation overall, and the legislature has already raided, repealed, and diverted most of the funds that did not enjoy the protection of being voter approved. Yes, these are tough times economically, but we need to think twice – even during hard times – before shirking our responsibility to future generations of Arizona school kids by eliminating these dollars.
Our children will benefit from the conservation of lands and the dollars these lands generate for the trust. This is much more than we can count on from the Arizona Legislature.
For all of these reasons, the Sierra Club, along with other conservation organizations, teachers, and the League of Women Voters of Arizona, is urging you to reject this ill-conceived plan and vote no on Proposition 301.
Do you agree with this opinion? Add a comment below to sound off.
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