Even before Arizona’s last legislative session began, it became clear state parks would be used as a pawn in the budget chess game. Threats that parks would close were used as an excuse to avoid restructuring government in any meaningful way.
As of today, four parks, three of which are former private estates, are closed. Four others which do not contain camping facilities are on reduced schedules.
The Goldwater Institute responded to recommendations that state parks be funded through a new license plate fee with a simple suggestion of its own: instead of raising taxes for parks, keep them under state ownership but let one or more private companies manage them.
Senator Barbara Leff wrote and won approval for Senate Bill 1349, which gives the Arizona Parks Board authority to immediately contract with a private company to run state parks. Despite an offer from a Phoenix-based company, the parks agency has shown little interest and even outright hostility to the idea. As an alternative, local communities have been making extraordinary efforts to keep open parks they deem important to their local economies.
While private contracting is not always simple, its benefits in this case are clear. Parks would stay open and the state budget would face less pressure. Unfortunately, the State Parks Board has shown little willingness so far to move on this important issue.
Dr. Byron Schlomach is an economist and the director of the Center for Economic Prosperity at the Goldwater Institute.
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